Relations between the police and the licensing trade have long been good, according to Scotland's national force.But how long will that be the case?
Strongly worded complaints from licensees and their lawyers testify to the fact that relations have already sunk a considerable way, in some quarters at least.
Claims that police are being deliberately bullying or intimidatory towards staff and owners of licensed premises are being made, along with a suggestion that recent months have seen an intensification of police interest in licensed premises.
Lending a further sense of grievance is the belief within much of the licensed trade that the police are often overstepping their legal powers, for example by demanding access to training records and staff paperwork when they do not have justification for doing so.
They also claim officers are usually not well grounded in the complexities of the law they have the task of upholding and lask sufficient training. Once again, a target culture is suspected, although the police insist there are no such targets. Nevertheless these are serious and outspoken claims and the police need to address them. It is clearly important that licensed premises are monitored and regulated. The public want to know that, when the law is being broken, appropriate action is taken.
However, this is to a large extent a local authority duty. Police forces should only have a need to be involved if there is good reason to believe there are criminal activities. It is also important to acknowledge that the licensed trade is a significant economic asset and most businesses are honestly and conscientiously run.
It is clearly disruptive to a licensed business to arrive with demands at key busy periods and, while that might sometimes be necessary, it is reasonable to expect that justification for such action is made clear.
The situation is not helped by the fact that the legislation is amorphous and fragmented. There is a real argument for simplifying or at the very least consolidating the various elements across different pieces of legislation that apply to licensing. But this is not an excuse for ignorance of the law, and certainly not among officers whose role is to enforce it.
If Police Scotland has good reason to carry out a heightened level of activity in and around licensed premises then it should ensure officers involved are properly trained.
There is an irony in a situation where police officers whose training is not up to speed on the latest legal developments are (allegedly wrongly) demanding evidence that staff in pubs and clubs are properly trained. Such instances can undermine public confidence if officers are insufficiently trained. Yet some officers within Police Scotland acknowledge that this is, indeed, what is happening.
The force says it welcomes comments from licensees. It should be willing to take them on board. The need for good relations is obvious. Responsible and law-abiding holders of alcohol licences can be an asset to the police, but only if treated fairly.
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