Blight of low-level offending as police struggle to gain funding - Sue Webber

Anyone who has arrived at the ASDA at Chesser for a quick evening shop will know it can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience passing groups of intimidating youths.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has promised to recruit an extra 1,000 officersScottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has promised to recruit an extra 1,000 officers
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has promised to recruit an extra 1,000 officers

Perhaps the attraction is the fast food and nearby leisure facilities, but antisocial behaviour, violence and disorder at the supermarket feature prominently in the latest southwest Edinburgh police newsletter.

With other references to similar problems at the Wester Hailes Library, and drug-taking in common stairs in Gorgie, it’s not an uplifting read.

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Sadly, it’s typical of the kind of low-level offending which blights communities across the city and beyond, and which Police Scotland struggles to cope with as it battles with the Scottish Government for the funding it needs to do the job the public expects.

Some 700 posts have gone recently, and the current establishment of 16,600 officers is the lowest level since 2008.

City of Edinburgh Council’s SNP-Labour administration axed additional funding for community officers in 2020, in the misguided expectation that the Scottish Government would cover the cost, but it was always unfair to pay for extra officers when Police Scotland devoted proportionately fewer resources to Edinburgh, despite having to staff events and facilities associated with a capital.

One way or another, policing in Edinburgh remains woefully short-changed and communities suffer as a result.

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My dad was a community policeman in Leith, so I know well what a positive impact a constant and familiar police presence can have on communities, a connection that is being lost to budget squeezes, and that southwest police newsletter has now replaced the very useful direct engagement officers used to have with community councils.

Who can blame them? No-one wants officers detained by evening meetings when there is too much to do on the streets, but they should have the resources to do both.

Since 2017, the Essential Edinburgh business improvement district centred on George Street pays for a dedicated officer ─ the so-called BID cop ─ and that’s a tacit acceptance that if communities want better policing, they might need to pay for it themselves.

It’s also why Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross’s promise to recruit an extra 1,000 officers, which would put 90 new bobbies on the beat in Edinburgh and 73 across Lothians and the Borders, should be matched by the Scottish Government.

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Community safety goes beyond policing but is subject to the same pressures, for example the Pentland Hills Park rangers who as well as managing the land and facilities, regularly deal with anti-social behaviour like vandalism, dirty camping and fires.

Last summer they dealt with 118 irresponsible fires and collected 416 bags of litter from dirty camping. You can imagine what they might contain.

But they too are having their funds cut, by the Scottish Government’s NatureScot agency ─ “We work to improve our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it” ─ and rangers are clinging onto their jobs because the council has agreed to cover, but only for a month and will review the position next month.

I’m trying to get answers from senior officers, but with the budget pressures they face it’s another example of the onus being foisted on cash-strapped local authorities to fund what was a national responsibility without paying any heed to the consequences.

Sue Webber is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Lothians

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