Kezia Dugdale: Public and police deserve better

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They are often known as the “rank and file” or the “bobbies on the beat”. They are the ordinary, yet at the same time, extraordinary police officers who carry out one of the biggest acts of public service each day they leave their home and go to work.

They keep us and our city safe.

I’ve called Edinburgh my home for over a decade now and the dedication of our local police officers is beyond question. From Craigmillar to Balerno, police stations across Auld Reekie boast women and men of the highest calibre.

But they are being let down by SNP ministers and the leadership of Police Scotland. The reputation of our police service has been dragged through the mud in recent months – from the scandal of the M9 tragedy, where police took more than 72 hours to respond to reports of a car crash, to a lack of transparency over stop and search and armed policing. Our police officers are doing their best but decisions taken by outgoing Chief Constable Sir Stephen House and Scottish Government ministers are hindering, not helping, them.

Frontline officers have to spend too much of their day behind a desk and not enough time in our communities – building relationships and providing assurance to the people of Edinburgh that their streets and homes are safe.

They have to do this work because across Scotland there are now more than 2000 fewer police support staff across the service. And those people carried out the vital tasks that allowed our officers to be out in their communities each day.

It’s not just in staff we have seen our police service stripped back – stations and public counters have been closed or opening times cut, call centres cut back and the areas our officers have to cover expanded without the extra resource to do their job properly.

All of this driven by an attitude of wanting to save money, instead of thinking how we best protect our streets, our citizens and our police officers.

And that’s an important point to remember. We need to properly resource our police service to keep those on the front line as safe as possible. When they put their lives on the line for us, they need to know they have someone championing them.

In the last few weeks we have seen officers attacked by a gang on the steps of a police station and less than a mile from my own flat in Lochend a female officer was knocked unconscious and hospitalised trying to arrest a man.

We need to do better for our police officers and the results of the major staff survey carried out earlier this year, due to be published at the end of the month, will make for very interesting reading. These officers are doing more every day with less at their disposal, and it’s an unsustainable position. I have no doubt many of them will have ideas and ways of how we can improve our police service. I hope the SNP government and those at the top of Police Scotland give these officers the time to be listened to.

The recent effort by Andrew Burns and our council here in Edinburgh has made in investing £2.6 million to put two named officers as key contacts for each ward of our city is exactly what we need to bring our police officers closer to their communities.

However, it shouldn’t come down to our council having to step in and fill what I see as a vital part of our police service. That’s the job of the Scottish Government. People want to know who they can talk to, they want a connection and relationship with their local police officers and they want to feel safe in their homes.

Communities across Scotland and our police officers themselves deserve better.

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of Scottish Labour and MSP for the Lothians.