MALCOLM Graham is leading the way for Lothian and Borders Police, both on and off his beloved bicycle.
Wearing his service issue cycling helmet and black uniform, he covers his beat on his trusty mountain bike.
In a short journey from Tollcross to St Leonard’s police station, the officer is stopped twice by passers-by – once to listen to complaints about the city’s traffic and again to give directions to a lost tourist.
Nothing particularly unusual, you might think, until you consider this officer’s beat is a little wider than your average bobby.
Chief Superintendent Malcolm Graham is in charge of the 1256 officers on duty in the Capital and wants more of them to follow his lead and use pedal power to carry out their patrols.
A keen cyclist, as well as surfer and mountaineer, the 39-year-old uses his bike to move quickly from meeting to meeting, and is quite happy if that means taking questions from members of the public on his travels.
“I was at a meeting with Andrew Burns, the council leader, the other day and I was stopped by two people in a matter of minutes,” says Chief Supt Graham. “They had no idea I was the police commander, they just saw the uniform.
“Cycling can be quicker and more efficient to respond to incidents. It’s becoming more popular all the time, and with the success of Olympians like Sir Chris Hoy that will only continue.
“Bikes cost a lot less than cars and officers aren’t stuck in a vehicle. I want Edinburgh’s police to have the kind of contact with those we serve where people approach us and talk about the issues on their mind.”
The old-school idea of “bobbies on bikes” comes as Scotland’s police face unparalleled modernisation with the single national force set to launch in April. Critics have voiced concerns about the impact on local police accountability and raised fears of creeping centralisation.
Chief Supt Graham takes the opposite view, setting out his vision of a city police more in contact with the community and responding better to its views on what his officers should be doing.
It’s not only by boosting the number of officers on bikes that the former head of CID believes the force can become more accessible.
He says: “It’s key that the creation of a single force is used as an opportunity to improve local policing for the different communities across Edinburgh.
“For the first time, the Scottish Government has set out that the police’s priority is improving community wellbeing and working towards goals identified by its residents.
“Different communities in Edinburgh have different problems and needs. They are not all the same. We want a dialogue with each of them to find out what improvements they would like to see.” He adds: “I’m really keen that the single force actually becomes an opportunity for increasing localisation of police services. Under it, I’ll be required to develop a local policing plan with the communities and the city council, and each will have more say in what happens in Edinburgh.
“I have around 1600 officers and police staff and my message to them constantly will be that we need to be more open and transparent in the decisions we make. People want and expect a greater level of accountability.”
Chief Supt Graham has also joined the world of Twitter with his account, @EdPoliceChief, another way to gauge the public mood. He says: “I’m still getting the hang of it, but for me it’s about showing leadership through a medium which a large proportion of the public now occupy on a daily basis.
“It’s another way for people to contact me and share their views. I’m able to comment on issues and get instant feedback. That dialogue can be a productive way to gather a sense of what people are thinking.”
The phrase “multi-agency approach” has been a mantra for Lothian and Borders Police for a number of years, but Chief Supt Graham believes its best results are now being seen.
He cites Operation Cipher, which has been running since last month in the Calders area of Wester Hailes, as one such scheme with drug raids being combined with visits by NHS staff to tackle substance and alcohol abuse, job seeking advice and diversionary activities for youngsters including canoeing, raft building, and kayaking.
He says: “My main priority is focusing on preventing crime in Edinburgh. I believe that the police needs to work more closely with public sector bodies and voluntary agencies towards improving lives. It’s about creating opportunities, helping people seek employment and education, tackling attitudes to alcohol and drugs, and intervening at an early stage in young people’s lives to help them become positive contributors to society.
“Operation Cipher is a great example which has started in the Calders and will be moving out to the Gorgie/Dalry area. In the east of the city, we have the Total Neighbourhood initiative, working with the council, NHS, local businesses and the voluntary sector to identify and address the community’s needs.”
But this commitment to local policing and reducing crime by addressing its root causes, he says, has not lessened the commitment honed in CID to tracking down the city’s criminals.
Chief Supt Graham cites the recent rises in street robberies and housebreakings as two priorities currently being tackled.
Through most of his 17-year service he has come face-to-face with the victims of violence, including handling some of the most horrific cases seen in the Lothians.
Chief Supt Graham says: “My first major inquiry as the senior investigating officer was the murder of Kevin Gibson, whose body was found a suitcase in the Water of Leith in 2003 while I was a detective inspector in Leith.
“Others I’ve worked on have included Peter Tobin’s murder of Vicky Hamilton and the Suzanne Pilley murder. These were high-profile cases but, for me, anyone affected by serious crime needs to have the confidence that we’re using every resource to solve them.
“You realise the difference you can make to individuals and families at probably the worst moments of their life.”
‘It’s a privilege to serve Edinburgh’
Q Why did you join the police?
A I had ideas about joining the police since I was a teenager. I was always impressed by the officers who visited our school to give talks. I saw the force as an organisation which helped people and tried to make the community a better place.
Q What has been your biggest professional challenge?
A One of the most challenging was after the Asian tsunami in December 2004. I headed up the Scottish team to deal with the cases of victims, survivors and their families, and I worked on that through to the April.
My new job is also a big challenge because Edinburgh is such a special city. It’s unique in Scotland as the capital with the Parliament, a royal palace, and 41 consulates. We also have Hearts and Hibs, Murrayfield, various concert venues, the Hogmanay celebration, the Festival and so many other things.
That challenge is one of the reasons I look forward to being the city’s police commander.
Q What are your interests?
A I love cycling and try to take the bike to work in the morning as often as possible. I used to compete in triathlons and I enjoy swimming at the Commonwealth Pool, which is a great facility, and I also go climbing and mountaineering.
Surfing is another passion and I’ve been lucky enough to do that in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. I’ve surfed at Tofino in British Columbia and Bondai Beach in Australia which were great experiences with some of the biggest waves.
I grew up in a small village in the Borders so if you wanted to work when you were young, you did it outdoors. There was also working in the fields, lifting and carrying, and I think that’s where my love of the outdoors has come from.
Q What music do you listen to?
A I’ve quite a broad taste in music, everything from classical and opera to indie. I’m a fan of Scottish bands like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and Aberfeldy. I’ve seen them all at gigs although it’s been a while since I went to anything like T in the Park.
Q What was the last book you read?
A The last book I read was The Dirtiest Race in History by Richard Moore, which is about Ben Johnson being caught taking steroids at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. It was the first Games I remember watching and I read it during the London Games. It’s a great book about the failure of ethics which saw athletes take drugs to try and reach the top.
I enjoy biographies, particularly about sports people and climbers, and books on politics and current events.
Q What did you last see at the cinema?
A I’m a big film fan although most of the movies I’ve watched recently have been with my children. The last film I saw at the cinema was Brave, which I thought was excellent and represented Scotland in a great light. Otherwise I’m a real fan of Martin Scorsese’s films.
Q What are your future ambitions?
A Only to do this role as well as possible. I have one of the best jobs in the police and it’s an absolute privilege to serve a fantastic city like Edinburgh.