This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

There's been some very unfair headlines in the press regarding the decision by Police Scotland to no longer investigate every low-level crime.

One newspaper’s front page said: ‘Police Scotland is accused of surrendering to criminals’.

Let’s be clear, Police Scotland has been forced into this decision because of political choices made by the UK and Scottish governments.

Investigations now won’t happen if there’s no CCTV or witnesses. The move was first piloted in the north-east, and freed-up 2657 police hours.

The decision only makes sense if you understand that the number of police officers in Scotland is at its lowest level since 2008.

The truth is, police either made this choice or law and order would fall to bits. Police Scotland, like the NHS, is on its knees.

I’ve spent 30 years reporting on crime. Today, officers tell me they’ve become a “social work stop-gap”.

Officers are continually dealing with people whose lives are in crisis – the homeless or drug addicts – rather than fighting crime.

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There are simply not enough social workers to help these people, so the last line of defence is a cop.

Officers are spending hours sometimes trying to find accommodation for homeless people, or refugees with nowhere to go.

Police are often told by social workers that there’s no accommodation available, so homelessness becomes the responsibility of officers who should be protecting society.

Beat cops are spending hours in A&E departments with drug addicts, drunks and people with mental health problems.

If these people are considered a risk, police must watch over them in hospital. If a criminal pretends to swallow a bag of drugs, then police must stand by their bed. 

There’s no such thing as a ‘drunk tank’ anymore, where someone can be put until they sober up.

So drunks must be taken to hospital, where police have to wait until they’ve been seen by medics. Evidently, A&E waiting times mean officers waste hours.

If there’s no health risk to drunks or drug addicts or someone with mental health problems, then they go into a cell if they’ve committed a crime. But rules mean they still have to be watched over – sometimes all night – to ensure they don’t harm themselves.

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Courts can waste whole days of officers’ time, which is understandable, but police are sick of being summoned and then never called or told to return another day.

Shockingly, sometimes it’s only probationers – rookie cops – who are on duty in specific divisions due to staff shortages.

Officers are made to stand at what’s called a ‘locus’ – a good example would be Nicola Sturgeon’s house when her home was searched by police – for days on end. 

The public is increasingly calling police out for matters that should be dealt with by councils, like neighbours keeping a dirty home.

Police time is routinely wasted, preventing officers fighting real crime. 

The Herald: The number of police officers in Scotland is at its lowest level since 2008The number of police officers in Scotland is at its lowest level since 2008 (Image: Herald Design)
To allow officers to at least tackle major offences, there was no alternative but to take this current decision.

If we want officers able to investigate every crime, then we must give them the ability to police.

As society crumbles amid austerity, police are being left to pick up the pieces.

Police aren’t social workers. Officers know they aren’t the right people to help addicts or rough sleepers, but there’s often nobody else.

Read Neil Mackay every Friday in the Unspun newsletter.

This isn’t the fault of police. This is the fault of Tory austerity cuts handed down to the Scottish Government; and also the fault of the Scottish Government in how it chooses to respond to those cuts.

It is politicians in London and Edinburgh who are making you less safe, not the police.