Reports to incidents rose by 55% during a policing trial on a Scottish island that slashed overnight cover, figures show.

Police Scotland launched a new regime in May putting officers on call rather than on the beat from 12am to 8am during the week and from 2am to 8am at weekends. 

Emergency calls were directed to staff at a Glasgow call centre who would then alert local officers to respond.

The trial, which reduced the number of shifts from five to three, sparked an angry backlash from the community amid concern that crime rates would increase and it was cut short.

It is understood the model was dependent on officers volunteering to be on call and only half agreed to do it. 

Police data from June and July, shows there was a year-on-year increase in the number of incidents reported through the night.

There were 56 incidents logged compared with 36 the previous year when police were on shift rather than on call at home.

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The biggest rise was seen in disturbances - ten compared to 4, but house break-ins (0 to 2)  assaults, nuisance noise complaints and vandalism also saw a rise.

A police spokeswoman said some of the incidents logged would not require a police officer to attend such as nuisance noise complaints or silent phone calls and claimed 80% of call-outs did not result in a crime being recorded.

At a public meeting held earlier this week, a police sergeant is said to have told residents that the number of reported incidents had increased by 25% this year.

The rise was attributed to a greater number of tourists coming over that month due to an increase in the number of one-off events being held. 

The Herald: General view of Rothesay and isle of Bute. Photo by Jamie Simpson

Gary Steele, a retired police sergeant who spent 17 years in the senior role on the island described the trial as "an open invitation for criminals."

He said it was probably not possible to draw any firm conclusions from this Summer's crime data but added: "The large increase in disturbance calls is interesting. 

"There's no way to know exactly what where or when they were  but a rise in disturbances at pub closing times or late takeaways could have been anticipated due to no patrolling police presence."

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He said it is his understanding that the trial was cut short because it wasn't working.

He said: "From what I gather the whole trial was dependent on volunteers [and]only around 50% volunteered to do it.

"I think as it progressed some withdrew from it because it just wasn't working.

"The reason it was stopped was because they couldn't do it, the officers weren't willing to do it. I think that came from the fact that it just wasn't working."

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Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay suggested the crime data "confirmed the need to restore overnight police patrols."

Police Scotland is still evaluating the results of the trial.

A new chief inspector has been appointed on Bute, replacing Samantha Glasgow, who said the existing overnight shift system created "unacceptable risks" for police and went so far as to say her staff were afraid to go out on night duty. 

Jann Hurwood, who attended the public meeting said the new police chief, Allan Dickson, had given the local community council reassurances that locals would be consulted about any future decisions.

She said: "A local sergeant attended to demonstrate the future intention was transparency and communication.

"The sergeant did confirm local police had gone back to previous rotas and the night shift had been restored. 

"A few small things had already been introduced to demonstrate the communication commitment.

"Apparently a weekly police report was sent to the Bute local paper which stopped. This has been reintroduced and will start again."

Superintendent Neil MacDougall said: “We explored an alternative policing model on Bute to test our response to the community’s needs and improve the wellbeing of officers on the island. 

“We are now conducting a full evaluation and early indications are we have captured the appropriate amount of information required to assess the model against demand.

“It is important that policing meets the needs of every community and the findings of this trial will be used to inform any future models which might be introduced on the island.”


It comes after a police whistleblower warned staffing cuts have left officers at breaking point and quitting the force.

The senior officer told The Herald the area he worked in often had as few as seven police covering a population of around 250,000 people.

He said three of four "good cops" a month were quitting and around 40 officers had been absent with stress-related illness over the past two years.

The whistleblower said he sympathised with islanders and officers involved in the three-month pilot.

Figures show police numbers in Scotland have fallen by 634 from the “minimum” of 17,234 set when the national force was formed 10 years ago.