CONCERNS over local policing in the face of the creation of a single police force are being addressed with individual plans for every council ward in Scotland.
A total of 353 local policing plans are to be drawn up throughout Scotland to ensure the new force can be held to account locally and target problem crimes in different areas.
The plans will be formed through a series of public meetings between local communities, councillors and officers and will be in place for the introduction of the Scottish Police Service (SPS) in April next year.
They will be overseen by 14 Local Policing Commanders as part of the new divisional structure of the force.
The move follows concerns a national force would implement "one-size-fits-all" policing policies, which would not address local issues.
SPS Chief Constable Stephen House announced the proposals at a meeting with local authority chief executives in Edinburgh yesterday.
He said: "Local policing drives what we as police officers do and is at the very heart of delivering a responsive, demand-led service that truly reflects the needs of the local communities.
"Reform allows us an opportunity to provide a consistency of approach to policing across the whole country.
"Keeping people safe is our priority and with crime at a 37-year low, I want officers to be visible, accessible and working closely with those they serve to help build public confidence.
"We operate differently across our communities to reflect local needs. Policing needs are different in Maryhill and Mull. Policing in Perth is not the same as in Peterhead.
"By setting out our clear intentions at a local level, we can be held accountable for our results, for what we deliver."
Currently, each of the eight forces implements local policing in different ways, with some using council wards as a guide and others implementing a more informal strategy.
The police chief's announcement has received a mixed response from those who campaigned against the single force amid fears it would have a negative impact on local policing.
David Alston, Liberal Democrat councillor for the Black Isle in the Highlands, claimed the plans are not that different to what already exists.
He said: "We already meet with senior officers in council wards to discuss crime, so this doesn't seem to me to be that new.
"We meet with the officers and get an update on crime in the local area and they tell us of any particular crimes that are becoming a problem and we can raise various issues with them.
"Perhaps this is a slight formalisation of this. If it is then I would welcome it, but the worry is that it will only create more paperwork and bureaucracy for officers."
Mr Alston added: "I've always had concerns about the single police force. The major concern is that it will pull resources away from rural areas into more urban areas.
"We fought against the introduction of a single force, but now that it's in place, we've got to do all that we can to scrutinise it at a local level."
Moves are already taking place to draw up the new plans in time for the introduction of the new force.
Several Local Policing Commanders have already been appointed, while the others are expected to be in place by the turn of the year.
The 14 new divisions will be made up as follows – Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray, Tayside, Highlands and Islands, Central, Edinburgh City, Lothian and Scottish Borders, Fife, Glasgow, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Argyll and Bute and West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde and Dumfries and Galloway.