Written by James Thomson, deputy secretary of the SPF’s north area committee
Over the last few weeks, I have taken the opportunity to personally visit various police stations across the north area including those on the Western Isles, Wick, Thurso, Aviemore and Forres.
I have also been to almost all the stations in D Division where I am based.
Last Friday and Saturday (July 9 and 10) evening I took time to visit and listen to officers working in Angus and Dundee, including those in C3.
My first impression was that you just can’t fail to be impressed with the commitment of all the officers I have met across the north from response, community policing and C3.
Let’s not pretend response and community policing is an easy role, nor shall we pretend C3 is less demanding.
In fact, no ‘frontline’ role has it easy, and when I say frontline I mean, CID, custody, PPU, RPU and firearms to name a few.
However, those at the front end of policing (response) can be the ones who we all forget and take for granted.
They make the wheels of Police Scotland turn and what a diverse bunch they are. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for them what would the rest of us do?
The main focus of my visits has been to see and hear first-hand about the conditions, workloads and challenges officers are facing across the various aspects of response and community policing across the region.
This is some of what they told me: “We are always working to a back log of calls and there are constant abstractions leaving us short.”
“We are regularly working without a meal break and getting delayed because of low numbers.”
“It’s clearly visible my staff are feeling the pressure, however they are unwilling to go off due to numbers and leaving the team short.”
“Not only do I worry about my own mental health, but I worry about my team.”
“I love my job in response, but the constant cancellation of my rest days for court means I can’t plan my days off. This is taking its toll on me and my family.”
“I don’t even notice the condition of the office now, we’re told there is no money so that’s that.”
“I can’t get specialist training as we don’t have the numbers.”
“I feel embarrassed when I bring a member of the public into the office. Look at the state of it. We are supposed to be a professional organisation..”
“I can’t get time off if I need it.”
It was difficult to judge the moral as all I spoke to were committed and enthusiastic.
There was a passion to do what police officers do as they were running out to calls or trying to grab some food as they completed that urgent paperwork left by the previous shift.
My only questions to them was: “What three things would make it better for you?”
The general consensus was:
· More officers to meet demand and give resilience.
· Guaranteed days off. There was an understanding there would be some disruption, but far too often rest days are being cancelled due court citations, however it’s rare that evidence is given.
· Proper fully equipped working environment, fit for purpose vehicles, kitchen facilities and access to TASER.
In other words, fund the service according to the needs of the community and to the needs of those carrying out the role.
However, looking in from the outside, it’s clear we are carrying out the functions of other services.
Two officers spending 8-10 hours, a whole shift, looking after someone going through a mental health crisis because there is no safe place to leave them is outrageous.
Let’s not forget, this is not a single event. These are situations replicated across Scotland every single day, on every single shift.
The north area is unique.
Policing in Scotland is unique with remote islands, remote communities, villages, towns and cities, lochs and mountains, rivers, seas and an ocean.
It’s not one size fits all, but the needs of our members, although complex, are vastly the same.
All they ask is to be treated fairly and as individuals, not as numbers on a board, plugging gaps due to failings in services.
If you want a service that the north and the rest of Scotland deserves then fund it.
In the meantime, our officers will continue working themselves to the bone doing the best they can with what they have.
It is important that we continue to carry out visits like this across the country to ensure the welfare needs of police officers are being met and no one slips through the cracks.