By Brian Currie
EVERY local authority area in Scotland should have its own police force, an independent think-tank has recommended.
In a view directly opposed to Scottish Government proposals to cut the number of forces from the current eight, Reform Scotland says the number should be increased to 32.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has yet to put a figure on how many forces he wants but it has been suggested Scotland could end up with a single national force, a move supported by Labour, the Tories and senior police officers.
Reform Scotland says in its report, Striking the Balance, the current structure needs to change, but claims the way to make policing more effective and accountable is to make it more local and the best way to do that would be to set up forces that conform to local authority boundaries.
However, although it says the focus should also be delivering better value for money, it is vague on how much the plan would cost.
In response to suggestions that Scotland is too small a country with too few people for more than a single force, the report points out that Spain has 1800 municipal police forces and Belgium has 196 local forces.
The report says different crime problems, faced in different areas, highlight the need for locally accountable forces that have the autonomy to address issues in the most appropriate way for the communities they serve rather than a “one-size-fits-all approach directed from the central belt”.
Reform Scotland also claims its idea would not politicise the police any more than a single force saying that “rather than one chief constable being accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, we would have 32 chief constables accountable to local councillors”.
The reports adds: “Linking up local authorities and policing would lead to a clearer sense of who was in charge of policing.
“While the local chief constable would have operational responsibility, a local politician would have political responsibility, just as is the case for education, housing and a number of other local services.”
The report also uses the example of New York, which it claims has a successful policing strategy because responsibilities are devolved to precinct commanders answerable for the crime records in their areas.
Strathclyde Police chief constable Stephen House, a keen advocate of a single force, said: “The report talks about having local officers working with their local authority to deliver the type of policing that people want and need. I absolutely agree with this. I believe that having a single, national force will allow us to manage the key strategies nationally but deliver the service that people want locally.
“Local commanders should be making the decisions that affect their communities, and a commissioner should be in charge of key issues such as strategy, budgets and how to tackle the issues that affect the whole country. This is exactly what a single national force would achieve.
“We don’t need a multitude of chief constables across the country. We just need the right people in the right place, empowered to make decisions that give communities the type of police service they want and to make sure that we are keeping people safe.”