MORE autonomy should be handed to Police Scotland’s divisional commanders to improve local accountability and address the power held by the chief constable, according to a report.
A review of policing in Scotland carried out by Labour MSP Graeme Pearson said there was “two Police Scotlands”, one made up of hard-working officers on the beat, while the other had “failed to keep promises and candidly tell the truth”.
The report also criticised the Scottish Police Authority and called for a committee of MSPs to be set up to oversee the police and help end what Mr Pearson, a former assistant chief constable, called the “incestuous relationship” that exists between ministers and senior officers.
Mr Pearson, Labour’s justice spokesman at Holyrood, said: “During my meetings across the country, local people told me that the link between their communities and bobbies on the beat has been lost, despite the hard work and dedication of frontline officers.”
“Those officers feel the breakdown too – the recent Police Scotland staff survey reported that officers feel they are losing touch with local people because of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ policing model.”
He added: “Two years on from its creation, Police Scotland needs a shake-up so that power once again lies with local decision-makers and we get back to the kind of community policing that made Scotland the envy of the world at one time.
“My recommendations aim to do just that, giving officers more autonomy to answer questions raised by communities, as well as enabling better local oversight and improving the relationship between the Scottish Police Authority [SPA] and local communities.”
Mr Pearson’s report said divisional commanders were more often “message carriers for the centre” rather than local decision-makers.
It said staff believed controversies such as stop-and-search and the row over armed policing had been caused because the chief constable operated alongside an executive group which offered “little in the way of constructive alternative views”.
The report said the SPA was failing in its role as watchdog and called for a new committee of MSPs to be set up to oversee Scotland’s emergency services.
Mr Pearson added: “I think the parliament is the mechanism by which we should ensure that the incestuous relationship which can sometimes exist between a cabinet secretary, a board and a chief constable, that we remove that incestuous relationship and let fresh air get into the system.”
Mr Pearson also criticised the SNP for failing to put together a business case for Police Scotland ahead of its launch.
A spokesman for Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Policing in Scotland is built on strong foundations and Graeme Pearson’s attack is hypocritical given that Labour fully backed the creation of a single police force in the face of Tory cuts from Westminster.
“His claims regarding the business case for Police Scotland is also wrong – there was a full outline business case for police reform with significant stakeholder input which was published in its entirety, and which was also backed by cross-party support.
“The fundamentals of policing in Scotland are sound and under this SNP government crime has fallen to a 41-year low.”