COP26: Halloween and Bonfire Night will stretch Police Scotland capacity ‘beyond the absolute limit’
Scotland’s policing capacity will be stretched “beyond the absolute limit” during the coming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, a police association has warned.
The UN conference, which runs from October 31 to November 12, coincides with both Halloween and Bonfire Night – two of the busiest nights in the force’s calendar.
David Hamilton, chair of the Scottish Police Federation, told The Scotsman that pressure on Police Scotland’s day-to-day operations during the talks would be “unprecedented”, despite the planned arrival of thousands of additional officers from England, Wales and Northern Ireland in one of the biggest ever policing operations in the UK.
Vowing the federation would do everything possible to “prop up” the force during the summit, Mr Hamilton warned disruption on key dates in October and November would “stretch policing capacity to and beyond the absolute limit”,
On the opening day of the conference, Police Scotland officers will have to co-ordinate the arrival and security of hundreds of high-profile COP26 attendees, including United States president Joe Biden, Pope Francis and the Queen – as revellers across Scotland celebrate Halloween.
Officers are also braced for widespread disorder six days later, on Bonfire Night.
In 2017, Edinburgh was branded a “war zone” after a spate of Bonfire Night incidents that involved property being destroyed, a police officer left seriously injured and raids carried out on addresses.
“November 5 is an exceptional date for police demand in any ordinary year,” Mr Hamilton said.
“The last three years have been very challenging and we don't expect it to be any different this year.
"A lot of work is getting done to support the frontline officers from back office posts as much as possible.”
A day later, on November 6, between 100,000 and 200,000 people are expected to descend on Glasgow for a UN-backed climate protest.
Police are concerned by the potential for such a large event to by hijacked, and have been engaging with various groups, including Extinction Rebellion, to ensure it goes smoothly.
More than 10,000 UK officers are expected to arrive in Glasgow in the days leading up to COP26, and around 2,500 Scottish officers are receiving extra training in how to manage large protests.
The force is also likely to cancel all leave during the summit and re-deploy backroom staff onto the streets, according to one former senior Police Scotland officer.
Despite the increase in personnel, Mr Hamilton warned members of the public to expect delayed responses to less pressing police call-outs while COP26 progresses.
“We will do our best and do everything we can, but it is going to be tight for us,” he said.
“Police will start at the top of the priority list and work their way down.
“Whilst we continue to push the service into ensuring that everything that can be done to prop up the service is done, the inconvenient truth is – there just aren’t enough police officers.”
Bernie Higgins, the assistant chief constable co-ordinating the COP26 police response, said "the significance and scale of this event should not be underestimated".
"COP26 will be the biggest and most complex event ever staged in Scotland” he said.
Mr Higgins added: “This will necessitate the largest mass mobilisation of police officers that has taken place in the UK in many years."