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Box ticking doesn't ease public fears

The scandal of fiddled crime statistics has had a significant impact on public confidence in the police in England and Wales.

It is therefore no surprise similar suspicions have arisen in Scotland.

Allegations contained in a Sunday Herald article have swirled around for some time but are difficult to nail down. HMICS reported recently in its review of crime reporting that it had "concerns about whether sufficient resources were being allocated to crime recording". In addition, the absence of a national crime registrar accountable for the integrity of the reporting regime has caused additional concerns.

The SNP Government's apparent obsession in announcing 39-year low in reported crime may be understandable from a political viewpoint. It does not, however, persuade communities of a new peaceful reality.

Anyone viewing the BBC documentary The Street will see reality with their own eyes. Drunkenness, violence and suspected drug-dealing are all caught on camera apparently without difficulty - not to mention a separate incident of an MSP racially abused while selling the Big Issue.

Recently, I attended a meeting with officers and staff at a Police Scotland divisional headquarters. I was impressed by the commitment of officers and staff to provide a professional service for their communities. I was also aware of the apparent but unspoken pressure felt by street officers to engage in producing numbers for stop/searches and other activities reflecting productivity in crime-prevention terms. Though confirmed at a Scottish Police Federation conference as a concern, the subsequent out-of-hand rejection of the existence of such pressures by both Government and Police Scotland did nothing for public confidence.

In any business, the delivery of "key performance indicators" is a means to a quiet life; it's human nature.

Unfortunately, as evidenced elsewhere, a slavish commitment to statistics encourages practitioners to simply tick the box, but it doesn't ensure the kind of effective policing valued by communities. Mr Macaskill must take an interest in an area of public service he appears to have abandoned as a matter of "operational independence". It is not. It is an area of public concern for which the Cabinet Secretary for Justice is accountable. He should ensure that both the SPA and the Chief Constable are reminded of that fact.

Graeme Pearson is a former police officer and director general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and is now Scottish Labour shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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