Despite being appointed as Chief Constable in June last year Jo Farrell has been something of an elusive figure in Scottish public life. Last week, however, and some seven months after the fateful “blue light taxi” from Edinburgh to her home in the north of England Jo Farrell emerged from the bowels of Tulliallan Castle for a round of media interviews. These were of course accompanied by the usual performative walk around that looks good on the “socials” whilst delivering nothing meaningful in practice.

Many believed the public ridicule and justifiable criticism of her frankly incoherent decision to divert a police car to be her private taxi days after her taking post left her chastened and avoiding publicity. Her appearance this week dispelled that myth. With all the conviction of a reluctant child singing in front of her aunties, she stumbled to deliver lacklustre performances which did little to reassure that she understood the magnitude of the office she now occupies.

Not everyone is media savvy or a good performer and it would be manifestly unfair to score her report card solely on that. The problem for Jo Farrell of course is that there isn’t a lot else to judge her by. We know that on her first day in the job she agreed with her predecessor that the police service was institutionally everything bad. How she was able to form such a derisory view of the organisation she had yet to properly meet was never probed – the chief constable had proclaimed and that was all that mattered. A few short days later she decided her most senior corporate colleague was not much cop and brought in a former associate to mark his homework, triggering an early complaint of bullying.


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Since then she has been briefed against relentlessly. Her top team is far from united and whilst she has thus far avoided the fateful vote of confidence from the board, it is clear the good ship Police Scotland continues to sail in shark infested waters.

There can be no doubt Jo Farrell inherited a lot of problems. A shockingly ineffective Scottish Police Authority has meant many of the challenges facing policing today were left to fester over many years. The fact there were only two candidates to replace Sir Iain Livingstone should have set many alarm bells ringing that all in Police Scotland was not well. The fact also that her opponent had his chances handicapped by being part of the institutionally failing service he sought to lead, did not create the ingredients for a robust and challenging recruitment process where only the best survive.

Jo Farrell presides over the police service that delivered the Hate Monster. A more ham fisted and ill-advised campaign you would struggle to find. “Nothing beats prejudice like some good old-fashioned stereotyping and vilification” was quite the message! Last week the Chief Constable came to the realisation that the hate crime legislation was misused by bad actors – something it appears that came as a surprise only to her – whilst simultaneously remaining mute on the service’s role in delivering messaging that contributed enormously to the firestorm.

This week saw the removal of the veil of dishonesty that has surrounded actual police numbers for years, and under her watch there are fewer police officers in Scotland than at any time since 2007. Little wonder therefore that thousands give up trying to even contact the police each week.

The Herald: The Hate MonsterThe Hate Monster (Image: free)

As summer approaches we can no doubt expect the Chief Constable to undertake a summer tour of all the places that look so pretty on television, and are best viewed at the taxpayers expense. Mercifully she will have fewer police stations to visit for she has closed many of them – on the upside no doubt someone will claim this is helping reduce the carbon footprint.

Platitudes and superlatives are a pre-requisite for any such trip and the comms team that so miserably failed her in advance of last week’s media rounds will be dusting off the well-worn lines about unique challenges, whilst doing nothing to actually help meet them.

At a time when what remain of our police stations are empty, and our prisons are full, we are long past the time of recognising that something needs to be urgently done. Sadly, performative policing has now supplanted policing performance, and looking and sounding good is considered far more important than actually being good.

There used to be a long-standing quip that my old force didn’t have a drugs problem, ‘till it had a drugs squad. It appears the Chief Constable has embraced a new version of that mantra by creating an environment where we won’t have a crime problem because we aren’t investigating crime. In her far from polished media performance, not only did she opine it was the fault of others that this policy was being misrepresented, the Chief went even further. She got right into the game of victim blaming.


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I suppose that on an annual salary approaching a quarter of a million pounds, it is no hardship to replace a stolen smartphone at costs which can easily exceed £1,000. After all, if you’re stupid enough to leave it on a table, what can you expect – other than an incident number for the insurance you may not have. Empathy for the victim was nowhere to be seen. This is seemed was an example of a crime that was beneath the police to now investigate.

Jo Farrell is right about the pressures facing policing, and like every right-minded soul, I want her to succeed. She won’t do that by losing public support but she doggedly shows no signs of trying to garner it. If she is to survive, she must try harder.

Calum Steele is the general secretary of the International Council of Police Representative Associations