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Officer cuts rendering Police Scotland a 'reactive' service

Officer numbers are expected to fall further after the January intake of around 200 probationary constables was postponed.

An "eradication of the frontline" is preventing Police Scotland from being a proactive force, according to the Scottish Police Federation (SPF).

As of June 30, the force had 16,600 FTE officers - down from 17,234 as a result of budgetary concerns. This number was meant to remain relatively stable across the next financial year, according to the 23/24 budget published in March.

However the planned intake of around 200 probationary constables due to join next January has been postponed, meaning numbers will fall. The force has said it intends to recruit again in March.

Having to manage with fewer officers not a new thing.

According to research in the latest 1919 magazine, the numbers assigned to local divisions have fallen by 4.5% since March 2020 - the equivalent of 575 officers. 

Divisions including Dumfries and Galloway lost 14% of their officers over this period; smaller decreases were recorded in other areas while numbers remained static in the Highlands and Islands division.

SPF general secretary David Kennedy says this trend "damages the bond with communities".

"Community officers go to events, get to know children, the parents, and they get to know the criminals.

“This all makes a positive difference, but when you take it away the barriers come up and rather than policing by consent, it becomes a force rather than a service.”

He added: “For the officers themselves, the eradication of the frontline means it’s a struggle for them to get their annual leave and go to the events in the community that are so important.

“We’re not a pro-active service anymore, it’s just reactive, and that makes a difference in the longer term.”

Chief superintendent Rob Shepherd, divisional commander for the Highlands and Islands, told 1919 that any further cuts would be very damaging for his team.

“If I was leading a policing team in Glasgow, or Croydon, each team responding to calls would have, I don’t know, an inspector, five sergeants and up to, if we were lucky, 50 constables every shift 24/7.

“But here, for example, if I look at Shetland, it’s a sergeant and two PCs. So there isn’t anywhere for me to cut from.

“Because if I take one of those PCs, it’s a sergeant and one PC. And the only team that has any depth at all is Inverness, and they’ve only got two sergeants and 10 PCs, so there’s not really any meat.

“Because we are so spread out, it’s a huge geography, there’s no resilience."

Police Scotland's well-documented financial issues have been compounded by the fact that it will only receive £43m of the £80m funding uplift awarded for 23/24.

This is because the remainder is needed to meet the costs of the 22/23 pay review.

The force is taking a number of steps to alleviate its financial issues, including potentially changing how specialist road policing resources are used and piloting not investigating certain crimes in the north-east region. It is also planning to sell another 30 buildings.

Significant outlays, such as £44.4m spent on overtime in the year until May and £16m in settlements since 2018, have exacerbated the position.

In an operational update published last month, deputy chief constable designate Fiona Taylor said: “I have been clear that we will continue to communicate about the hard choices being taken to maintain effective policing within the funding available.

“As I outlined during the Scottish Police Authority board meeting in September, we have been closely assessing the officer recruitment profile for 2023-24 and I have now taken the decision to reprofile the planned intakes over the rest of the year by postponing the January course.

“Despite the funding pressures we’re facing, communities should be reassured that we are doing everything possible to direct resources to areas which encounter the greatest demand, and which carry the greatest risk, and that we continue to effectively reduce harm and protect the vulnerable.”

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