Police - meeting changing demands

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Criminals are becoming ever more sophisticated and Police Scotland needs to rise to meet that challenge.

But according to Scottish Police Authority chairman Andrew Flanagan, the basics must come first.

He explained: “We are behind the times when you consider that police vehicles don’t even have sat nav – something you, me and others use on a daily basis.

“So when a call comes through, officers have to know exactly where they’re going as their vehicles are not equipped.

“We need to look at arming officers with tried and tested equipment, including smartphones, before we look at the likes of body worn video cameras.

“There’s nothing more compelling than video evidence and there are a range of benefits but there’s some basic stuff missing too.”

As for the online two-way community portal propsed within the strategy, Mr Flanagan is all for it.

“Again, this is tried and tested stuff when you consider you can book a holiday and print off your own boarding passes these days,” he said.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to improve public accessibility to officers and, at the other end of the scale, cutting edge technology for cyber crime and forensics.”

To meet rising demand for Police Scotland resources, Mr Flanagan agrees that employing the right mix of staff is key.

“We are better placed than some but, as an organisation, we have limitations in terms of how much money we have.

“That imposes on us to be as efficient and effective as we possibly can be.

“There’s a lot of latent capacity in the organisation which could help us meet the extra demands.

“We can free up officers from the back office and get them back onto the front line. We can enable officers to file reports from the scene.

“It’s all about reducing the admin burden on officers so they can spend more time on front line duties.

“We also need to look at recruiting people who are more specialised, with skills officers don’t have.

“Cyber crime is the best example. If you’re an IT specialist, you probably don’t want to get into a uniform and spend 20 years with one organisation.

“But these people have skills we need so we have to be more flexible about the opportunities we create for people within the force.”

Online crime is likely to place an ever-growing demand on Police Scotland so ensuring the right people are in post is paramount.

“Some existing crime is moving online, for example, people don’t tend to rob banks these days – they use technology to steal from them instead,” he said.

“There are also new types of crime which technology has facilitated, such as online child sexual abuse and exploitation – there’s a lot of growth in that area.

“Some of it can be tackled by education and prevention, but it’s also knowing what’s going on in that environment and how we capture those responsible, many of whom do not live in our jurisdiction or even this country.”

The ten year strategy is all about striking a balance between the public services people have come to expect from the police and the private spaces crime now occurs in – be that on the internet or in the home.

“Visibility has an important role to play; the need to have feet on the ground will always exist,” said Mr Flanagan.

“But there’s a balance between that and how you operate most efficiently as a police service, while having that degree of reassurance.

“We’re now more focused on issues, such as domestic abuse, which 30 to 40 years ago we may have attended but not really dealt with.

“Domestic abuse and cyber crime both occur behind closed doors so one of the challenges is how do we get the balance right?”

Working in partnership with other agencies is key to freeing up more police time to cope with these extra demands.

“We have two pilot schemes operating in Inverness and Aberdeen bringing together different agencies – the police, fire and rescue, social care and housing all sharing information.

“You tend to find it’s the same individuals they are dealing with but, working collectively, we’re seeing some quite dramatic results.

“Preventing these issues frees up resources for all the services,” he explained.

But to tackle all of the demands that Police Scotland faces in the next ten years means restructuring parts of the organisation.

Mr Flanagan added: “There are a series of things that make an organisation with more than 22,000 employees work, such as payroll, HR and finance.

“When the eight legacy forces became one, these remained largely the same – operating in eight areas.

“So, as yet, we’re not seeing the full benefits of a more singular approach.

“Therefore, we’re looking at streamlining these services now.”