Brian Monteith: Glasgow police not for Edinburgh

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It has taken longer than I thought but it has finally happened. Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and everything else east coast no longer matters. Scotland is now greater Strathclyde, or greater Glasgow to be precise.

What is Monteith drinking this week? Has he been to some weird Fringe production and come out a different person? Has he been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a faulty clone? Sorry, it is none of the above – I’m even drinking straight tonic water at the moment – so I can’t blame the vino!

What has led me to make this bold statement is the latest crime stats for stopping and searching by the police in Scotland.

More than 23,000 children aged under 15 have been stopped and searched by Scotland’s state police force since it was nationalised into a single unit on April 1. The number of people being stopped and searched in Edinburgh has actually doubled in that time.

Previously we enjoyed local police forces – such as Lothian and Borders Police – that reported to local police boards run by our local councillors.

The common word there is “local” and what we got were local decisions tailored to fit local problems and local crime patterns. In case the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Sir Stephen House, has not noticed, Edinburgh is not Glasgow, Lothian and Borders is not Strathclyde and our crime 
patterns are different and require a local approach.

Sir Stephen’s previous job was of course Chief Constable of Strathclyde, which for anyone living in the rural parts of the area really meant Glasgow police.

So why the greater number of people being stopped and searched? More knife crime or gun crime in Edinburgh? Actually it has never been debated why it is necessary because the local forum for discussion no longer exists.

Such a change in policy has happened because the priorities have become nationalised under the one central police command – essentially we are now getting the Glasgow approach to policing as practised by the former Strathclyde Police.

This follows the recent developments whereby Edinburgh’s saunas are being targeted in police raids –some 150 officers to raid six saunas . . . 
what were they expecting to be met by? The evidence being presented to the council and the general demeanour of the police suggests that the police wish to shut them – and the other seven – down. But on whose authority?

Our local councillors seem to be following directions from the police rather than giving them out. What was a reasonable and discrete way of protecting sex workers without upsetting the locals – compared with kerb crawling that gets residents angry – appears to have been abandoned without so much as a discussion or consultation with the public.

Funnily enough, the approach being taken is the same as the way police handled prostitution in Glasgow – with poorer results, including the murder of prostitutes on a regular basis.

But that is not all, we know because of the excellent reporting by this paper that the specialist burglary unit that used to handle break-ins in Edinburgh has been wound up. What were crimes once handled by experts in their field are now usually “investigated” by the uniformed bobby who might also be handing out a parking ticket, arresting you for smoking in a bus shelter or being a foot-soldier in a sauna raid.

I’m sorry, but that is just not good enough. Property crimes – usually committed to feed a drug habit – are horrible and hugely upsetting to those who experience them. Some people have to move house after a burglary, never feeling safe again in the same home. I’ve known people have nervous breakdowns and marriages to fail, all because of a burglary that got inside the victim’s head.

Solving a burglary is not just about the crime stats – it helps the process of recovery for those who have been robbed and it sends a message to those that think they can get away with it.

If clear-up rates are going to drop from 40 per cent of burglaries leading to a charge to only 17 per cent then their will be more victims and more burglaries. The hoods are not daft and will see that it makes more sense to rob a house than rob a shop, or a car.

Deterrence is not just about heavy sentences for those prosecuted – it’s also about the fear of being caught and then charged. If our police are not giving the correct level of resource to housebreaking you could double, triple or quadruple the sentences and it won’t scare off the potential burglars.

The specialist housebreaking unit was a particularly local initiative for Edinburgh, but now it’s gone and the Strathclyde approach has been put in its place.

So there we have it. Stop and search, the Glasgow way. Prostitution back on the streets, the Glasgow way. Less priority for burglaries, the Glasgow way. Meanwhile, the police say they remain thoroughly professional.

There was nothing wrong with the eight police forces that Scotland enjoyed that could not have been corrected while preserving the local police. Why not go the whole hog and relocate the parliament to Glasgow, too?