MSP con­demns the scale of po­lice sta­tion clo­sures

Fig­ures: Sit­u­a­tion branded ‘alarm­ing’ for north and north-east com­mu­ni­ties

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - NEWS - BY KIRSTEN ROBERT­SON AND KIERAN BEAT­TIE

More po­lice of­fices and sta­tions have been shut down in the north and north-east than any­where else in the coun­try since the for­ma­tion of Po­lice Scot­land.

The loss of dozens of build­ings, some of which were based in poorer ar­eas, was last night con­demned by politi­cians who stressed the im­por­tance of hav­ing a “vis­i­ble pres­ence on the ground”.

The string of clo­sures has taken place since the coun­try’s eight re­gional po­lice forces merged into one cen­tral or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2013.

At the time, the Press and Jour­nal re­ported fears that im­pend­ing bud­get cuts would re­sult in sta­tions be­ing shut.

But then-Chief Con­sta­ble Stephen House stressed that the force would fo­cus “far more” on “ad­min­is­tra­tion and back of­fice build­ings” when it came to down­siz­ing its es­tate.

How­ever, since Po­lice Scot­land was of­fi­cially founded on April 1 2013, a to­tal of 125 po­lice sta­tions and of­fices have shut down through­out the coun­try.

The sin­gle worst-hit coun­cil area for clo­sures was the High­lands, with 19 sta­tions and of­fices axed.

Aberdeen was the se­cond most af­fected coun­cil area with 14 shut, in­clud­ing some in the city’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties.

North East re­gional MSP Lewis Macdon­ald last night branded the sit­u­a­tion “alarm­ing”.

He said: “It is par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing to see some of these clo­sures tak­ing place in some of the most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties in Aberdeen, where hav­ing a vis­i­ble pres­ence on the ground is ar­guably the most im­por­tant.

“For older peo­ple or those who may feel vul­ner­a­ble or threat­ened, be­ing able to speak to a per­son face to face makes all the dif­fer­ence.

“I don’t take the view that po­lice should never close of­fices, but I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that com­mu­ni­ties can still feel con­fi­dent and have easy ac­cess to the po­lice when they need it.”

Five sta­tions have closed in Aberdeen­shire, two in Mo­ray, four in Shet­land, one in Orkney, three in Ar­gyll and Bute and four in the West­ern Isles.

High­lands and Is­lands MSP Don­ald Cameron said: “This is fur­ther ev­i­dence that Ni­cola Stur­geon’s cen­tral­is­ing gov­ern­ment sim­ply does not care about ru­ral Scot­land.”

A spokesman for Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Humza Yousaf said: “We will take no lec­tures from the Tories, who have presided over a cat­a­strophic fall of more than 19,000 in po­lice of­fi­cer num­bers in Eng­land and Wales since 2007, while here in Scot­land the SNP Gov­ern­ment has en­sured num­bers re­main at his­tor­i­cally high lev­els.”

Deputy Chief Con­sta­ble Will Kerr ar­gued that build­ings had been closed for “strate­gic” rea­sons. He said: “Scot­land’s polic­ing es­tate has been built up over the course of sev­eral decades and some build­ings are no longer in the right place or op­er­a­tionally fit for pur­pose.

“We do un­der­stand how im­por­tant lo­cal po­lice pres­ence is to com­mu­ni­ties and our es­tates strat­egy de­tails our in­ten­tion to in­crease com­mu­nity bases for lo­cal of­fi­cers, while iden­ti­fy­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties to share lo­ca­tions with key part­ners.

“We are also in­creas­ingly en­abling of­fi­cers to spend more time out in com­mu­ni­ties.”

There was al­ways some­thing very re­as­sur­ing about know­ing where your lo­cal po­lice sta­tion was, a phys­i­cal sig­nal that com­mu­ni­ties were pro­tected.

Over re­cent years that com­fort has been steadily eroded, with open­ing hours pared back and doors clos­ing to the pub­lic en­tirely.

It is, the fig­ures we re­veal to­day show, a trend that has bit­ten par­tic­u­larly hard in parts of the north and north-east.

No doubt in many in­stances there are log­i­cal ar­gu­ments to be made for the de­ci­sion to dis­pense with these fa­cil­i­ties.

Some will have be­come un­fit for pur­pose, oth­ers sited in places that do not now make sense as times change. New tech­nol­ogy cer­tainly makes it eas­ier, too, for of­fi­cers to op­er­ate out of a num­ber of other lo­cal premises.

And, it is ar­gued, these ad­vances should open the way for more of them to get back on the tra­di­tional beat.

What mat­ters most to law-abid­ing ci­ti­zens is that the forces of law and or­der have a vis­i­ble pres­ence.

Those in af­fected ar­eas may be per­suad­able of the mer­its of in­di­vid­ual clo­sure – and of the al­ter­na­tive pro­posed ar­range­ments.

But the cru­cial next step is to demon­strate clearly to them what has been done specif­i­cally in their area to plug the gap and re­store that im­por­tant re­as­sur­ance.

“Tech­nol­ogy should open the way for more of them to get back on the tra­di­tional beat”

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