Helen Martin: One size fits all policing no good

Regional variations must be taken into account by the police. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Regional variations must be taken into account by the police. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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SO far the change to one Police Scotland national force hasn’t been quite the trouble-free, seamless transition for which we in the east might have hoped.

First there was the apparent “Strathclyde” model of dealing with prostitution. Because there was zero tolerance in the west, the same policy is being applied here, despite the fact that Edinburgh has a rather more pragmatic attitude, especially towards massage parlours and saunas which at least keep the girls and punters off the streets.

As a result of that perhaps, serious concerns were expressed that the cafe culture Edinburgh has worked so long to build, could be wrecked if the police took the same approach to open-air drinking that they do in Glasgow, where it is quite simply not allowed.

The cities are different, they function differently, they cannot and should not be policed in the same way.

The question is whether Police Scotland believes in a system where they tell us what to do and what not to do or whether we (represented by the council) should be telling them what our policing priorities are so that they can get on with their part of the job. In other words, who’s the boss?

Another casualty of the introduction of the single force could be the loss of our community police officers, who used to be funded by Edinburgh council to the tune of £2.7 million. We can hardly blame the council for withdrawing the funding because the entire basis of the community scheme was that local residents – not even the mighty council – helped decide local policing priorities. It worked well. If Police Scotland is going to set its own agenda at national level regardless of what city leaders want, there’s fat chance of them heeding the wishes of mere tenants or home owners.

The public’s relationship with the police is very complex, based as it often is on extreme scenarios or bad things happening. Community policing, often under-rated, where an officer gets to know the area, the people and the issues, works with the locals, and knows who’s made a one-off mistake and who’s a career villain, is one of the most challenging, clever and rewarding parts of policing if you believe a friend of mine who did it for years. They probably prevented more crime and saved more lives from ruin than any high-ranking, multi-pipped boss or investigative genius.

As we now know, high-level crime – murder and rape – is frightening but rare. The majority of people who suffer, do so at the hands of neighbourhood vandals and thugs whose relentless bad behaviour and “low-level” crime makes life a misery. Local policing tailored to local needs is the answer.

I can see how one national police force could save money on shared systems and better co-operation. But I don’t think any of us expected the loss of our own Lothian & Borders HQ and its absorption into one Scottish force to deliver such an immediate and disappointing lack of accountability, not to mention what looks like a drastic change of ethos.

What we need now is a review process and a way of correcting what’s going wrong with the new model. One thing we cannot afford is to have a police force that throws its weight around, ignores regional variations and needs, and becomes increasingly distant and disengaged with local authorities and the law-abiding public.

Freeze charges not the people

I’M no great fan of Ed Milliband. But he’s right to try to freeze energy prices. All the “big business” arguments against doing so centre on the need for greater competition in the market, a drop in profits and dividends for shareholders including pension funds, a disincentive for investors, and the predicted refusal of energy companies to continue investing in infrastructure if their profits are to be cut.

No mention of the fact that bills are already too high and beyond the reach of many. The choice is between freezing charges or freezing people. The greedy, bullying energy firms will make it as difficult as possible. But the only alternative is to let them go on over-charging more and more.

Audrey’s daughter gets balance right

WHAT many people haven’t mentioned about Aileen Brown, the daughter of cyclist Audrey Fyfe killed as a result of careless driving by Gary McCourt, is that while understandably calling for tougher punishment for guilty motorists, she also supports the sort of road safety systems existing overseas which impose penalties on cyclists as well as drivers.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Call Kaye she recommended the system in Quebec where cyclists contravening rules are given points on their driving licence or recorded which could count against them ever getting a driving licence.

She added: “Drivers might have more respect for cyclists if we were all treated equally, which we should be.”

Amazing that after all she’s been through following the death of her mother, she is able to bring a sense of balance and fairness to the debate which eludes the polarised lobby groups of either side.

Saatchi’s appeal is no mystery

NIGELLA Lawson and Charles Saatchi made an odd couple, even before the bloated 70-year-old was snapped throttling her. His latest squeeze seems to be fashion stylist Trinny Woodall. Reminds me of Mrs Merton asking Debbie McGee: “So what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”