A plan to improve the effectiveness of Police Scotland as it adapts to the age of cyber crime must take account of the distinct policing needs of rural areas like the Borders.
That is the message sent last week by Scottish Borders Council to the single force which replaced Scotland’s eight regional constabularies in 2013.
At its meeting on Thursday, the newly-elected council was asked to respond to a draft 10-year strategy, drawn up by Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority, which holds it to account.
Central to that blueprint is the need for the force to “adapt and transform to meet the needs of a changing society in which the rise and use of the internet has led to news ways of offending”.
The strategy stresses the importance of “prioritising preventative measures and working with other partners, particularly local authorities, in achieving outcomes”.
It also emphasises the need for Police Scotland to work “within available funding”.
In its agreed response, the council has stated: “Rural communities and small towns can have different priorities compared to cities and more urban areas in relation to antisocial behaviour, road traffic and parking issues and fly tipping.
“There is a need to empower local police to operate much more flexibly to deal with local priorities focusing on early intervention and prevention.
“To achieve the better outcomes expected in the strategy, additional resources will have to be committed to partners, particularly local authorities. No consideration is given in the strategy to how partners will find the resources for this preventative working.
“The strategy needs to give more detail on how financial stability and sustainability for the police service going forward will be achieved.
“The technology envisaged to deliver the transformation does not substitute for face-to- face and community contacts which are vital for public confidence.
This is particularly important in rural areas with more spread-out communities and a more ageing population.”
Earlier, Councillor Euan Robson (Lib Dem, Kelso and District) told the meeting: “There’s nothing [in the strategy] about counter services after the disastrous closures across the south of Scotland; there’s nothing about the loss of local control rooms replaced by call centres, where local knowledge is sorely missed.
“There’s also nothing about the reduction in civilian staffing which keeps police officers in front of paperwork rather than in front of the public. We are also right to point out how incoherent the financial situation remains for the police.”
However, at the suggestion of Councillor Heather Anderson (SNP, Tweeddale East), the council also agreed to include “words of praise” for Police Scotland in its formal response.
“While fully supporting the emphasis we [the council] are placing on increasing flexibility to deal with local priorities, I want to take the opportunity to applaud the achievements of the new national force, the creation of which received cross party support [in Holyrood],” said Mrs Anderson.
“These achievements include having clear-up rates for crime at 51.6% – the highest level in 36 years – violent crime down 52%, homicides down 23%, fire-raising and vandalism down 58% and firearm offences at the lowest level ever recorded.
“In addition, £20m has been invested in tackling domestic abuse and 1,000 additional police officers have been maintained.”