Saturday, 22 November 2008

More not less

I hear that HMCIC Paddy Tomkins is to step down in April, and I join the officers and support staff in the inevitable wave of relief that rang around the 8 police headquarters in Scotland as news reached them.

Good policing is essential to a society of worth, and over the last century the increased politicisation of British policing, reaching its apogee under Margaret Thatcher where police uniforms (not all filled by police officers) were lined up against strikers in a grotesque display of the use of policing as "storm troopers of the state" should concern us all.

Regional police forces are essential to representative policing that supports society and it's values. Police forces were originally set-up by local communities to serve them. A now retired Chief Superintendent impressed me when he told me, after disciplining two CID officers involved in an unforgivable driving accident, that "Those officers are guilty of forgetting that their role is to serve the public, not imprison them. Local policing is 80% social work and 20% law enforcement, and it's not The Sweeney".

Paddy Tomkins spent his early career on an AP path culminating in him being promoted to Chief Constable. He then moved into the executive policing environment where senior officers spend more time with politicians than their own men, and funding is centrally controlled. What happened then? Witness his bizarre campaign calling for the formation of one Scottish police force and hollowly echoing the fear agenda of politicians by calling for a "supra-force" with emphasis on counter-terrorism, firearms support and traffic.

The rub for me is this; if we accept the reduced crime figures, why is it that the fear of crime has gripped our society - to the point of us becoming so risk averse our children suffer and OAPs spend years without leaving their homes? I would argue the restructuring of Scottish policing in 1975 as a result of the Local Government Act (1973) is the key contributor to this illogical situation. Local stations remain closed in evenings and weekends (Portobello & Girvan are good examples), even divisional headquarters are deserted in some regions outside office hours, people do not feel that local policing exists, and in turn feel vulnerable. You will not solve this disconnect between the general public and policing by reducing the number of forces, but by devolving real management to divisional level and increasing the number of forces.

In Scotland even Strathclyde Regional Council, a legacy of the aforementioned and discredited regional council experiment, has now been replaced with 12 unitary local authorities, widely accepted as more representative in terms of local government. Strathclyde Police Force however struggles on, trying to meet the widely differing requirements of deprived gang and crime dominated urban areas with those of rural Argyll and Ayrshire.

Paddy Tomkins you were wrong, sure we need some national services such as the fingerprint and forensic services; but we need to give control back to local communities, Chief Constables and their officers - and many more of them please...

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