The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)
Weren’t told new unified force would mean a“more corporate approach”
IDEFER to no one in my respect for our police – and as far as I’m concerned they are as much our police as the state’s, which is not something you can say with confidence in many parts of the world.
Not long ago I was pulled over on Riverside Drive in Dundee. My daughter and I had been over to St Andrews for the morning and were returning home. Approaching lights near Tesco, I saw they were on amber as we passed. What I did not see was a second set of lights on red . . .
Sailing serenely on towards the airport, I airily dismissed the tentative opinion from my passenger that in fact a police car was tailing us. True, I could see a large car with little blue fairy lights flicking on and off around its radiator area but so what? Real police cars have powerful, unmissable flashing lights and a wail like the last tormented soul in purgatory, so it couldn’t be them.
I’ll spare you the details of what happened next. Embarrassment wasn’t in it at the eventual confrontation in the desolate lay-by further up the road. But that’s not the point. Nor is the fact that 40 years’ clean driving licence disappeared just like that, a sore that still stings.
No, what I took from that experience – in calmer moments – was a strong impression of two sensible bobbies being totally professional. No voices were raised, no gratuitous personal opinions expressed. They must have thought me weak in the head, but did not say so. Since then the public humiliation of the mandatory breath analyser procedure has faded a bit. But the memory of polite, business-like officers has not, to the point that I occasionally recount the anecdote for the amusement of others.
It seems to me that goodwill between police and people is well nigh priceless. You cannot buy it. It has to be earned. It is easily lost.
So when I opened my Courier and saw that Angus councillors were recently informed of a more corporate approach to the policing of processions, my heart sank. Corporate approach? That is the desiccated language of institutional non-communication: bland, unhelpful and remote.
And were we led to believe that a corporate approach would be the creed of a single, unified Police Scotland? We were not.
At issue was a march in Arbroath for which Police Scotland’s change of approach would mean a bill for organisers obliged to pay for a temporary traffic regulation order.
When the parliamentary bill for centralising the police was going through Holyrood, the Justice Secretary said a single service would “strengthen links between police . . . and the communities they serve”. I doubt if a corporate approach to local issues, such as processions, will do that.
There is a distinction, surely, between corporate governance of the structure of policing in its new form, now a done deed,
Pand the crucial awareness by officers of variations in local needs and tradition.
Angus procession sub-committee convener Alex King, with decades of service to his name, was forthright: Addressing the Police Scotland rep Mr King said: “I want you to take it back to Police Scotland that over 40 years this march has been taking place in Arbroath without any trouble whatsoever and I don’t see the need for traffic orders or this sudden change in policy.”
Significantly, he then mused: “I am beginning to wonder whether Police Scotland has been such a good thing”. And if it carries on like this I for one predict a reaction that, at the very least, will divert time and money the police can ill afford.
The real driver of change here is the decision, made in Edinburgh, to save £1.7 billion over 15 years. Fair enough, but it was also strenuously argued that “the connection between services and communities would be strengthened by the bill”. That claim hangs on a shooglie peg. In Arbroath, the incoming tide of corporatism was rebuffed but there is an unhelpful mindset at work that I think is becoming entrenched.
What an irony! A Scottish Government, itself devolved, centralising a vital public service. A nationalist administration creating worries about freedoms in Arbroath, of all places!
Truly, the world gets stranger every time it turns.
I don’t want to see our police, my police, scorned. My own foolishness that day on Riverside Drive was handled with tact and understanding. I reckon that is of the essence in good community policing.