by Stefan Morkis
Reform Scotland will publish a report today that claims integrating Scotland’s eight police forces into a single body would be a false economy and that further decentralisation would lead to more effective and accountable policing.
The Scottish Government is carrying out a consultation on the future of policing in Scotland but favours reducing the number of forces in order to reduce costs, either into a single entity or reducing the total number of forces.
Both the Tories and Labour have said they are in favour of a single police force.
The Scottish Police Federation has said it is opposed to both a single police force and creating a larger number of forces, while the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland is carrying out a study to determine the best method of policing in Scotland.
However, independent think tank Reform Scotland says creating 32 separate police forces — one for each council area in the country — would lead to better policing.
In the report, called Striking The Balance, the group states, “The Scottish Government is currently considering merging Scotland’s eight police forces to create a single police force.
“Reform Scotland recognises that the current structure needs to change, but believes such change needs to move in the opposite direction with more local, accountable policing, rather than a centralised service.
“At the same time, the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) should be strengthened so that it can deal more effectively with national policing priorities, while also playing a co-ordinating and supporting role.”
Researchers studied police forces in other countries and said other countries have shown the benefit of having a greater number of local forces.
The report states, “There are a number of countries round the world which have far more locally accountable policing than Scotland, as well as multi-tier policing. For example, Spain has 1800 municipal police forces and Belgium has 196 local forces.”
Reform Scotland also argues that Scotland’s eight police force areas vary greatly in terms of size, geography, police numbers and the types of crime police most frequently encountered.
It states that while Fife Constabulary had the second lowest rate for non-sexual crimes of violence in 2009/10, it had the highest rate for crimes of indecency, and Grampian Police had the third highest rate for crimes of dishonesty, but the lowest rate for fire-raising and vandalism.
Reform Scotland claims these differences show the need for locally accountable police forces that can address these issues in the most appropriate way for the communities they serve, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Report author Alison Payne said creating 32 police forces would make each one more accountable to the public it serves.
She said, “Just as there are different crime problems facing the different police forces in Scotland, there are different crime problems facing different areas within forces.
“As a result, it is important that enough freedom is given to area commanders to try out different policing methods. This also enables innovative and new policing practices to be tried out.
“As with all public services, increasing the diversity of provision can raise standards for all. Imposing a one-size-fits-all structure from the centre will stifle that innovation.”
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said, “Communities already have responsive, local and accountable police forces and Scottish Liberal Democrats have led the opposition against their break-up.
“We will continue to staunchly oppose the proposals for a single national police force in Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said the consultation on the future of Scottish policing closed last month and it will be publishing its response in due course.