MORE than 100,000 people a year use the police stations across the Lothians that are due to have their public counters axed.
Force chiefs are being challenged to say what alternative service will be provided for people wanting to report crimes in their neighbourhood.
And today it emerged police want to set up desks in supermarkets.
The controversial plans to shut front counters at ten police stations and slash the opening hours at seven more have provoked a public outcry.
The Evening News has launched a campaign against the closures, calling on police chiefs to reconsider their plans. People in the areas affected have been quick to give their backing and put up campaign posters.
Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale has lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament, claiming the cuts are driven by a bid to save £60 million rather than improve policing. She has also warned of job cuts among support staff.
Five police stations in Edinburgh – Craigmillar, Corstorphine, Oxgangs, Balerno and South Queensferry – will shut their front desks under the proposals. Some form of service will be provided in Craigmillar and Corstorphine through local community hubs.
Counters at Bonnyrigg, Tranent, Linlithgow, Armadale and West Calder would also close.
And the counters at Howdenhall, Portobello, West End, Penicuik, Haddington, Musselburgh and Bathgate would all cut their hours. A total of 830 opening hours would be lost.
Police Scotland justify the desk closures by claiming fewer people use police stations to report crime, opting instead for phone, email or Twitter.
But an analysis of the force’s own figures shows around 73,000 people a year visit the five city stations due to lose their counters and altogether more than 112,000 a year use the ten stations affected. The calculation is based on data quoted by the police for visits to individual stations over periods ranging from three days to four weeks.
Ms Dugdale said: “These are astonishing figures. Where do the police expect these people to go in future? They’re not all going to translate into calls to the 101 non-emergency number.”
Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson suggested the supermarket idea. He said: “Some of the big 24-hour supermarkets, they’re getting millions through them every year, that’s where we need to be putting out officers.”
Ms Dugdale’s motion notes that three of the stations affected are in Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s own Edinburgh Eastern constituency and recalls reassurances he gave that a move to a single police force for the whole of Scotland was “the best way to protect frontline policing”.
The motion also voices support for the Evening News’ Save our Stations campaign.
Police Scotland based their proposals for closing front counters on an analysis of visits made by the public to police stations. They distinguished between what they defined as “core” public counter functions that could only be done face-to-face, such as bail reporting, firearms licensing or found property, and “ancillary” demands such as general inquiries, reporting crimes or lost property.
The result was that only eight per cent of visits were classed as being of “core” demand.
Ms Dugdale said: “The idea that reporting a crime is an ancillary service is absolutely ridiculous and to suggest the benefits of human, face-to-face contact and reassurance can be replicated by phoning the 101 non-emergency number is a nonsense.”
Former police officer and Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart said he was also baffled by the categories used by Police Scotland, which included counting Freedom of Information inquiries as a core demand while reporting a crime was not.
“I struggle to understand the logic,” he said, “How is an FoI request more in need of a face-to-face presence than reporting an actual crime?”
Mr Crockart said local stations had a vital role in making it easy for people to report incidents, adding: “By the police’s own figures the vast majority were going in to do things like reporting crime.
“There is nothing to say what sort of crimes they are, but I remember being on duty in Gayfield Square police station in the early 1990s when somebody came in at 3am to report a rape – it hadn’t just happened, it had happened 20 years before when the person had been in care, but it had taken until that point to feel they could report it.
“Who is to say that could not happen again and the person end up trying to go to Corstorphine or South Queensferry?
“The last thing I want is for someone who has gone to hell and back and plucks up the courage to report a serious crime to be met by a locked door. I understand the pressure on costs, but they have to come up with some way of making sure people don’t walk away without reporting a crime they came to report.”
Mr Crockart said police chiefs had not said what service would be provided in place of station counters that were closed.
Providing phones outside police stations is one option being canvassed to replace services.
But he said: “Sometimes police turning up at police stations are being followed by someone else with a very different view of an incident, so providing a phone instead of a police counter could turn it into a flashpoint.”
Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said he fully supported the Evening News campaign for a rethink on the closures.
He said: “Not only are they scaling back on public counters, community police officers are being cut too. It’s almost as if they were withdrawing from community policing.”
Chief Constable Sir Stephen House defended the proposed desk closures, saying they were based on a detailed analysis of footfall at the stations.
He said: “They are either very close to other police stations or in communities where there is coverage from community officers or where the station itself has the smallest footfall imaginable. If we were to keep these offices open it would mean backfilling civilian staff with police officers and taking them off the streets.”
Sir Stephen added: “We are spending public money and we are obliged to do that as efficiently as we can.”
Key questions needing answered
1. What alternative will be provided for people who would usually go to their local police station to report a crime?
2. What alternative arrangements will be made for matters like answering bail?
3. What hours will the police desks at the community hubs in Craigmillar and Corstorphine be open?
4. How do the changes help community policing?
5. How many job losses are involved in the proposals?
6. Will the remaining counters be staffed by police officers or civilians?
7. What assurances are there that station buildings will not be mothballed altogether?
8. How much money will the changes save?
‘It’s nice they are just down the road and you’ll get quick response’
OUR hard-hitting campaign has already struck a chord with residents horrified at the closures.
Cathy Lear, 46, manager of Balerno’s Malleny Arms, is aghast her station is shutting up shop.
She said: “I really appreciate the police station being there. It’s nice to know they are just down the road and that you will get a quick response if there is ever any trouble. I think it’s a great idea to launch this campaign to save them and I think the people of Balerno will think exactly the same.
“We have the local police involved in our Pub Watch and they come to our meetings to discuss any problems we might be having. I often ask officers to pop in every couple of weeks just to show they have a presence here and I think it does deter trouble. I worry that all of this will be under threat if they close our police station.”
Oxgangs resident Lynn Denholm, 37, left, said the station would be sorely missed. She said: “I used to work at the Good Companions (public house) and there often used to be a riot van parked outside there. If that place kicks off, it really kicks off. Having the police station next door was definitely a big help. If it goes then I don’t think it will be a good thing for Oxgangs.”
Sylvia Conkey, 51, top right, from Craigmillar Post Office, said she did not approve of plans to relocate the station into the community hub. She said: “I don’t understand how it would work. Are there going to be cells there? If it is going to have the same functionality as the one at the moment then I can’t seeing it being feasible in that building. They can’t have people being dragged in there in handcuffs next to the library where there are kids.
“There is only one entrance to the building, so would everyone use it? If it’s just going to be an office for police doing paperwork then that’s not going to help the area.
“The police station is on its own where it is and I think that works better for anyone being taken there or wanting to use it. I think older people in particular appreciate it being there and knowing it is there 24/7.”
Bill Laird, 73, left, of Balerno Hardware, said: “I am all in favour of police and I think it will be sad if they do shut the station.
“They have cut the opening times, so it’s not open very often. But I do see them out on the streets.”
Across the city people were clamouring to sign our petition and put our poster in their shop window, with many viewing people power as the only way to get police chiefs to listen.
To receive a petition and poster e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131-620 8733.
• How you can make your voice heard
Sign our petition to stop the closure of police station counters in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
There are two ways you can show your support for the campaign.
Fill in the coupon printed in today’s Evening News and send it back to us.
Email the following to SoS@edinburghnews.com along with your name and address
“Dear Sir Stephen House,
I want my local police station to stay open to the public. Please think again.”