The rural policing challenge

​The staffing crisis affecting police across the Highlands and Islands has been laid bare in stark fashion after the region’s top ranking officer cited a recent example when Lewis and Harris was left with no cover whatsoever.
Superintendent ShepherdSuperintendent Shepherd
Superintendent Shepherd

In an interview with the in-house Police Scotland magazine, 1919, Chief Superintendent Rob Shepherd, who was only appointed in January this year, drew attention to the challenges faced – including centralised decision-making.

Mr Shepherd, who grew up in Morayshire, spent 20 in the Met and says in the few months he has been divisional commander has “spent more time explaining the challenges of policing the Highlands and Islands than I ever did the challenges of policing Croydon”.

“Organisationally, there is the challenge – and my colleagues in the NHS, local authorities and fire brigade face the same – that all of our decision-making nationally sits in the central belt,” he said.

“Things that work there don’t necessarily work here. We are often faced with ‘there’s been a pilot in Glasgow and it’s fantastic so everyone’s going to do it’.”

He stressed that he is constantly having to make the case for rural policing – “we are facing a massive challenge” – and on the staffing crisis drew on an example in the Western Isles.

Mr Shepherd explained that a violent assault that took place in Benbecula saw two off-duty police officers recalled to work.

They made an arrest and had to stay overnight with the suspect until the first ferry the next morning.

The early shift in Stornoway, meanwhile, had to drive two and a half hours to Leverburgh to meet the two officers from Benbecula, where they handed over the man they had arrested.

The Uist officers then went back home after having worked around 16 hours each – on their day off – while the Stornoway cops spent their whole shift dealing with the suspect and travelling.

And while all this was taking place, due to staffing pressures, there was no-one left to police all of Lewis or Harris.

Mr Shepherd stated: “The problem is, every time you protect an area, someone else has to lose out.”