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Agenda: The mixed returns from the battle for a single Scottish police force

Those of us who lobbied hard these past 10 years for a single Scottish police service look back on the past year with mixed feelings.

This SNP Government had no declared commitment to a single organisation before the 2011 election - though we now know a reform team were already at work behind the scenes - suddenly and at breakneck speed, pushed forward with legislation immediately after election. The results, significant disharmony involving the SNP government, the police executive and their Police Authority, has seen an absentee cabinet secretary feigning respect for operational independence as a reason not to oversee policing a time of monumental change. There followed a period of incessant propaganda distancing the executive by denying any negative outcomes as not the 'policy of the force'.

Against this backdrop of confusion, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or 'targets' as they become in the hands of patrol officers, have become the latest addition to a growing list of concerns. But are KPIs important?

When our banks and financial institutions got their KPIs wrong, institutions previously known for their integrity and worthiness, entered a period of performance measured by sales and profit targets. The outcome: KPIs were used to justify targets to enable bonuses.

The result encouraged behaviours that eventually brought the mighty to their knees. Today few sensible people believe banks can be trusted to behave ethically. Similar problems have affected our hospitals - managed as they have been - by means of a tick box targets reflecting little in terms of quality services. Even care for the elderly in our communities has witnessed a system dominated by the 15 minute time slot targets for visits. I have witnessed with my own eyes when such visits don't even last 15 minutes - not because the carers don't care, but due to the unreasonable pressure placed on them to deliver on their KPI. Never mind the quality feel the width.

The flurry of complaints from within Police Scotland in regard to the culture of performance management offers an early warning. Since 1799 and the creation of the Glasgow police, policing has been firmly a locally based activity designed to serve the public need for security and safety. No one denies that it is essential we ensure all officers perform to their best. But the delivery of exponential growth in the numbers of detections in terms of seat belt offences, stop/ searches and speeders does not reflect the headline statements made on behalf of the new service. What we hear in headlines is rightly focussed on organised crime, sexual, domestic and violence offences, housebreaking and drugs. But what is reported from within the organisation reflects a focus on 'soft target' results. A focus on numbers for each patrol officers (repeatedly denied by police managers) forces officers to deliver daily reports designed to 'tick the box' in terms of KPIs rather than delivering the services local communities need.

Nevertheless is crime down over the past 30 years? Undoubtedly. Is that fall due to the 1000 additional officers provided by government in the 2007 - I doubt it is solely that.

We should remember that our ageing communities have half a million fewer young people in Scotland today compared to the preceding decades. Crime detection statistics consistently reveal the age groups most often reported in relation to crimes and offences are those under 25 years of age. In addition, the growth of CCTV, better car and house security, and a change in the nature of criminal activities due to the internet, have all together led to a fall in crime statistics.

These facts don't ignore the good work delivered daily by police and staff linking crimes and suspects for the courts.

Acknowledging these realities should mean policing in Scotland requires not only new structures but a change in culture to deliver for victims (or other customers) a service efficient, effective and at a cost we are prepared to pay.

The growing clamour around community policing, professional standards, crime reporting and now targets should warn us there is a pressing need for a new clarity of purpose about the future of policing particularly in respect of what is being decided on our behalf and by whom. But the absence of candour on the part of those responsible for policing particularly Mr MacAskill means that the democratic oversight of this new service is being hampered by a lack of openness on their part regarding options and recommendations.

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