To many on the outside, the various twists and turns in the controversies at Police Scotland can seem remote from the reality of keeping Edinburgh’s streets safe. Last week’s headline “Edinburgh pays more, gets less on policing than rest of Scotland”, brings the matter into closer focus.
Whether or not you are concerned by the churn of chief constables and police board chairs, one thing everyone in this city will tell you is that policing has changed in this city.
Speak to officers on the ground and they will tell you that their numbers have dropped by as much as a third in the past five years. Meanwhile, central office is strengthened by ever more officers. That leaves us with a level of policing 40 per cent lower than Glasgow, and the highest rate of unsolved crime in Scotland, according to the latest statistics.
What’s more, the same officers will tell you that they spend as much as half of their time on paperwork and administration. A combination of old technology and a failure to integrate systems from all the former forces means that officers can end up filling in the same information up to eight times for one incident.
Police officers do an amazing job. Their dedication and commitment to our safety the law is outstanding. But they are being let down by a failure to invest.
Officers cannot spend as much time following up incidents, because they are getting called away to deal with the next thing. Police are the emergency service of last resort, and officers are spending more and more time dealing with social breakdown and mental health crises where no other public services are willing or able to step in.
As a result, local Police Federation representatives tell me of their real concern about the stress levels and mental wellbeing of the officers they represent. We are asking our officers to do too much with too little – we need to back them up.
When Police Scotland was created, it was meant to drive efficiencies. However, simply creating a single command structure and giving all officers a single badge was never going to be enough. To deliver efficiencies in large complicated organisations, you need to invest in systems and in people. But Police Scotland are still operating multiple IT systems and five years in staff are still on different terms and conditions, depending on which force they came from.
The brutal reality is that you need to spend money to save money. The SNP failed to back up their rhetoric with resources when they created Police Scotland. We need to back up the courage and commitment of our police officers and invest in the force – until we do, we will simply be letting them down.
Daniel Johnson is the Labour MSP for Edinburgh Southern.