POLICE Scotland was once again in the headlines with even a heavily trailed TV documentary portraying an apparent “Force in Crisis”.

Given the hype I was expecting new stories and shocking revelations, instead it could best be described as a “Shock Jock” programme containing contrived issues and cauld kale het up.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues for Police Scotland to address. This week also saw a reduction in police numbers below the previous maintained level of 17,234, albeit by less than 100. More concerning though were the financial challenges detailed at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) and which seemed to indicate that only further reductions in numbers could balance the books.

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However, all that though has to be put in the context that despite these tribulations Police Scotland is still performing well. There have been huge reductions in crimes of violence with many, including the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Constabulary, venturing north to see what’s been done. Every public body is feeling financial pressures with austerity and many would gladly swap theirs for Police Scotland’s.

But, why has the spotlight fallen on Police Scotland? Much of course is because it’s newsworthy. Tragic deaths, resignations and boardroom spats will always be covered. Public bodies and the private sector need to be held to account.

However, the level of interest in Police Scotland has increased exponentially from what went before with the old legacy forces as they were called (or regional constabularies as they’re better remembered). Received wisdom, probably rightly, has that it’s due to the service’s huge significance in society and the sheer scale of the organisation.

But much of the criticism, and more importantly, many of the critics of Police Scotland would have you believe that the former structures were halcyon days. According to their recollection these issues never arose in the golden days of the eight former regional forces only came into being in the 1970s and prior to that more than 30 more localised forces existed, including the cities such as Edinburgh and Glasgow having their own and many former counties likewise. The arguments that played out with the establishment of Police Scotland were echoed then as people opposed the regional model and defended the county system. Halcyon days indeed.

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More importantly, issues did arise then which frankly don’t arise now or only very rarely and wouldn’t be tolerated. Of course, at any time and in any job, people can fall from grace and mistakes can be made. Policing is simply higher profile and with greater risk, and it’s also fair to say that then as now the service was still remarkably good and most officers honest and diligent.

However, the idea punted around by some political opponents of the new Police Scotland that this wouldn’t have happened under the old arrangements is not just absurd but wrong. Some actions that would be treated with incredulity and disciplinary action now were tolerated, if not institutionalised. Some of it is romanticised as the “Dixon of Dock Green” bobby simply having a regular drink from a friendly publican but it did happen all too often and it shouldn’t and wouldn’t now. A former chief constable once told me of the regular haunts that he required to visit when with more senior officers when he joined and how drink was expected to be taken. Likewise, a school friend who joined the local force and went on to have a very successful career told me of his first night shift, when the senior officer he was with parked up the car, pulled his hat over his face and told him it was time for a sleep.

That’s all laughed at now but wouldn’t be tolerated. But I also recall nearly 40 years ago as a young law apprentice that the firm I worked for represented the Strathclyde Police Federation. It was a major client and cases weren’t just drink driving but went from assault, through theft and housebreaking to even one of culpable homicide. The overwhelming number of officers then as now abhorred those colleagues but it was frankly far more prevalent then than now and less rigorously scrutinised. With the heightened media interest in the police such cases would be wall to wall TV shows. That there aren’t such programmes shows the improvements made and enhanced standards expected.

But Police Scotland is also paying a price for policing becoming a political issue. It’s right that there should be political scrutiny but previously it was on issues and with respect shown for the service as a whole. Before the establishment of Police Scotland arguments tended to be between political parties not aimed at the police themselves. The service was a non-combatant in political terms.

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All that changed as Police Scotland was set up and the independence referendum was ongoing. Nothing then was off limits and the police became a “legitimate target”. The treatment of the former Chief Sir Stephen House by some politicians was frankly disgraceful, I can’t recall any politician from any party treating a chief constable in that manner before. Criticism of policy yes, but caustic aspersions on an officer restricted in his right of reply, most certainly not. He was publicly castigated over firearms officers, yet his plans are now accepted without demur by those politicians. All that changed was that the threats the chief prepared for, tragically have come to pass. Yet no apology has ever been forthcoming from Willie Rennie in particular, who was vicious with his invective.

Its time some politicians stopped misrepresenting the past and stopped using Police Scotland as a t political football. It’s right that there should be rigorous scrutiny, that in a national body it must be even higher and criticism of strategy is appropriate. But, hyperbole about a crisis, when there patently isn’t one, is entirely inappropriate.

Moreover, more can’t be done for less, as pressures increase with historic abuse and terrorism. The spotlight needs to be turned not just on the police service we expect but the police service we’re prepared to pay for. You can’t get one without the other and that’s a political not police decision.