Police Scotland are 'Keeping people safe.' Apparently. I often wondered what their true purpose was. I think, however, that a more pertinent slogan might be 'Keeping people waiting.'
It was recently reported, for example, that in December 2016 Police Scotland failed to action two reports from members of the public concerned that a van parked in a lay-by near Dunipace was abandoned and might be stolen. Although an officer did verify that the van was not stolen, he did not enquire any further into the surrounding circumstances.
It was only two days later when officers were tasked to attend reports concerning a nearby lorry that they found the van. Sadly, inside, they also found the body of David Penman who had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. There were no suspicious circumstances. Apart from the suspicious circumstances surrounding the continuing failures by the Area Control Room (ACR) at Bilston Glen.
Because this is not the first time that this has happened. John Yuill and Lamara Bell were found in their crashed car by the side of the M9 near Bannockburn, three days after it had first been reported to police at Bilston Glen ACR. The delay in attending the scene may have been instrumental in Lamara Bell's death some days later. Similarly, a Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) investigation into the case of Andrew Bow, a vulnerable man with Asperger's Syndrome and learning difficulties, highlighted problems in the 'handling and management of calls' at Bilston Glen ACR. Mr Bow was found dead over a week after the first of four calls to police by concerned neighbours reporting broken windows at his Edinburgh flat.
'You are through to Police Scotland. Your call is important to us however due to fundamental problems with our control room systems, a significant hole in our finances and "weak financial leadership" your call will be placed in a queue. A very long queue. Of several days. Police Scotland would like to thank you for your patience in this matter and to remind you that we are "Keeping people safe."'
Or, how about 'Keeping people baffled.'
Another PIRC investigation into a case in Dumfries again highlighted deficiencies in control room systems, this time at Govan ACR. A woman contacted police concerned for the welfare of her depressed mother who she had been unable to contact. Despite all relevant details of the mother having been taken by the ACR, most of this information was not passed on to officers. Furthermore, a known fault with the ACR gazetteer system led to her address being incorrectly identified. Consequently, officers attended at the wrong address, spoke to the wrong woman and thereafter wrongly reassured the daughter that her mother was safe and well. It was several hours before police realised their error, attended the correct address and sadly discovered that the mother had died from an overdose of prescription medication.
Personally, I have not found Police Scotland to be so inattentive. They even managed to find me. At my house. Where I live. Shame. Two police officers appeared at my door one morning and when I refused to pay my outstanding fines for contravening the Glasgow drinking byelaw, they 'kept me safe.' In their custody. Thoughtful. But not in my local police office. They told me that the local one was closed for prisoners today.
'You are through to Police Scotland. We are currently experiencing high crime volume and regret to inform you that we are closed in this area. We are open again from 6pm on Friday through to 6am on Monday. Please do not break the law outside these specified hours. Police Scotland would like to thank you for your co-operation in this matter and to remind you that we are "Keeping people safe."'
Or consider 'Keeping people elsewhere.'
I was taken instead to Glasgow city centre police office which was not great because it's frequented by deranged drunks and druggies. The prisoners, not the police officers. Well, mostly. And there was a palpable sense of desperation and despondency. Amongst the prisoners and the police officers. No, really. While we were waiting to be seen by the desk sergeant the two arresting officers complained freely – to each other and to me – about Police Scotland cuts, echoing press reports about increasing officer dissatisfaction. They were both of the opinion that their ability to do their job is being seriously hampered by a lack of funding and falling officer numbers.
As a direct consequence of this, what an individual officer is expected to do in a shift is being massively stretched. I sensed a genuine and heartfelt frustration at their situation. Me too. I felt a genuine and heartfelt frustration at my situation, although for some reason that didn't seem to concern them quite so much. Hmm.
When my young son was attacked by some other boys in the street, Police Scotland were not quite so attentive. It was not a serious incident and I did not, therefore, expect it to be their top priority but, having been told repeatedly by the control room that officers were on their way, we waited. And waited. And waited. Many hours later, having finally given up and left the scene, two officers attended at our home address. They told us they were not from our local police office and were not familiar with the location where the incident occurred. They were very apologetic about the delay and told us that it could be because they are required to cover any incident in 'Greater Glasgow.' Greater Glasgow? That's almost half of Scotland. Or, according to most Glaswegians I know, that is Scotland.
'You are through to Police Scotland. For victims of crime please press 1 and we will ensure that officers despatched to deal with your case will not be from your local police area, will have no idea where you are located, and will, therefore, be delayed by an indeterminable period by which time you will have abandoned hope and will have seriously considered employing vigilante tactics next time instead. Police Scotland would like to thank you for your tolerance in this matter and to remind you that we are "Keeping people safe."'
Or perhaps 'Keeping people frustrated.'
It has been estimated by Audit Scotland that Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority will have a cumulative funding gap of £188 million by the end of the decade. £188 million? That's very suspicious. Somebody should call the police. I mean, I've had some large overdrafts in my time but that's a bit of a worry. And Police Scotland was created, in part, to save money. Which doesn't appear to be working out terribly well. A bit like my overdraft.
To make matters worse, the chief constable, Phil Gormley, is currently on 'special leave' awaiting the recommendations of a PIRC investigation into allegations of gross misconduct. He is reputed to be getting paid £11,000 a month. That's incredibly special leave. I am not clear, however, whether for that level of remuneration he is currently still required to be 'Keeping people safe.' Perhaps he could donate some of this not inconsiderable sum to a good cause. Like Police Scotland, for example.
What about a more realistic slogan: 'Making a mockery of the idea that a single force will save money whilst maintaining officer numbers, safeguarding frontline services, and effectively protecting the communities it serves.' Maybe that's a bit long. How about the more succinct: 'Oops.'
Are Police Scotland 'Keeping people safe?' Apparently not. Well, not always. Sometimes. A bit. And, to be fair, they are at least, 'Keeping people amused.'