Making the Law an Ass

This blog has been critical of recent ‘developments’ in Scotland’s justice system in general and the role played in such changes by the Justice Minister, Kenny Macaskill MSP. And this criticism is not personal, having nothing to do with wur Kenny finding no time to hang out with veteran activists in the SNP Club since his elevation.

Much more important is the degree to which he—using the unexpected SNP majority in Holyrood—has taken a meat cleaver to the finely balanced combination of body of law, legal profession, enforcement and justiciary that had been Scotland’s distinctly independent glory for the last 300 years (see earlier blogs Must Justice Be Blind from last May and Kenny Cannae Ca’ Canny from the year before). To put it mildly: he has form.

Not content with one major reform he has blundered about like a bull in a china shop fixing a succession of things that senior observers of such matters still don’t consider were broke. These include:

  • folding eight forces into one and removing the democratic scrutiny of police boards
  • giving the resulting Police Scotland monolith carte blanche to ‘reorganise’ (aka slash) services (e.g. traffic wardens) without consultation with ‘partners’
  • restructuring the Procurators Fiscal offices, much to the consternation of judges
  • closing a significant number of Sheriff Courts after a sham ‘consultation’
  • deleting Corroboration as a major pillar of fairness in Scots Law

A blog is too short to rehearse all of the arguments why wur Kenny might have much of this wrong. But this week saw a particularly ugly and indigestible chicken come home to roost when the Chief Inspector Brown presented the full East Lothian Council with a first Police Report for the third of the new Police Scotland “J” Division that it covers.

Some six months ago, his predecessor’s only appearance was marked by her getting it tight for having dropped wardens, re-tasked community officers and re-allocated council-funded officers, all with no consultation with the civic authorities thereby affected. Why she then moved on with less than a year in the job has not been made clear.

Ch.Insp. Brown’s 26 pages of report starts off well enough, with reassuring introductory comments that include:

“I remain strongly committed to the principle that community-based policing, which responds to local need and demand, is crucial to delivering services that keep people safe and maintain public confidence.” —Chief Constable Sir Stephen House QPM

Few would quibble with that. Indeed, those involved at the sharp end of policing have found that genuine community bobbies who know their beat (and therefore the kids, secrets and malcontents therein), combined with civic wardens, tenants & residents, community councils, ASBO teams and various civic pillars have been doing a bang-up job dealing with minor disturbances so well that few ever reach crime statistics. And those have been falling steadily for several years as a result.

Reading the report, you would never know it. Described as a ‘strategic document’, this makes it flawed right out of the gate because what is needed is an operational report. The five priorities given as the backbone of the report are pure motherhood and apple pie. In itself this is not risible but the fact that they are so generic as to apply equally to Whitecraigs, Giffnock as Whitecraig, East Lothian makes the reader wonder what understanding there is for real local issues among police middle management.

But, worse that that, one of the objectives given is: “Increasing the proportion of positive stop and searches“. Such actions are common currency in city estates where weapons and drugs are commonplace. But to introduce such abrasive behaviour into docile East Lothian is akin to having police walk the beat in Warrior armoured personnel carriers. Such crass application of inappropriate tactics is more likely to scare citizens than reassure them. Worse, it will give the impression that police are losing the fight against crime when the opposite has been true.

And when senior officers start talking about ‘flexibility’ and ‘cross-training on local issues’ you know that the bean-counters are in charge and that officers are regarded as so many interchangeable pegs to fill a variety of policing holes. This ‘efficiency’ was tried in the nineties and ‘community officers’ cycled through the post so fast most of them never even found the local toilets, let alone our petty criminals.

They also fixate on serious crime and think the minor stuff is seen as just that by the public. As a ‘goodwill’ gesture, two officers were assigned to North Berwick High Street on Easter Saturday to compensate for the absence of traffic wardens. While they were busy timing which cars were overstatying the 90 minute limit, Marine Parade (seafront) jammed up with double-parked cars (incident #215) and the Dirleton Avenue entry into town backed up a mile while a lorry offloaded (incident #428). Both incidents were reported on ‘101’ by 12:30. #215 never received a response and two (other) officers attended #428 at 15:25 to report no lorry.

Such examples are legend and serve to dissuade the public from reporting anything to the police who then delude themselves into thinking they’re well on top of things. Neither incident above, nor any like them will ever find their way into this Police Report because, unlike any competent report in business, it includes neither goals, nor measures, nor even scrutiny as to whether anything—let alone competent policing—was achieved. Another problem in the nineties was that crimes went unreported because of the paperwork involved and the need to occupy two officers to apprehend suspects and take them to police stations. Look for that practice to re-appear as statistics are cooked to polish up ‘solve rates’ and thus careers.

None of the above should be taken as criticism of beat officers. Having chaired a Community Action Police Partnership for the last four years, I am full of admiration, gratitude and respect for the hard work done by officers attending there and the pro-active communication of their local inspectors who have invariably provided the best support available for those officers in the front line. Middle management is another matter—interfering with officer availability locally, rigidly enforcing shift patterns so they can’t attend to local duties when it suits, being more in thrall of internal objectives and career paths whether they bear relevance to citizens’ real policing needs or not.

The thing made most clear by the wholly unsatisfactory report is that, from House down to division level, the police—always fond of their own jargon and generally dismissive of civic insight, let alone control of how they operate—have gone native. This report is not just a bureaucrat’s charter but an insult to anyone genuinely trying to exercise their democratic right to scrutinise those who apply the law.

However, that probably applies to the 32 clone reports with which councils are being fobbed off across Scotland. What makes matters worse is that the report reeks of policing that may be appropriate to Glasgow but certainly not to Gifford; the subtlety of policing that once made it so effective in East Lothian is at risk of being thrown out the window of pseudo-managers who clearly don’t know their patch and don’t seem minded to learn.

Worst of all, having handed Mr House this one-size-fits-all cleaver, Macaskill seems not to care how that will reverse crime figure improvement, especially as his abolition of Haddington Sheriff Court means local miscreants will get trucked up to Edinburgh where they can learn their criminal trade properly from graduates of Saughton and Bar-L with whom they will soon be rubbing shoulders.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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One Response to Making the Law an Ass

  1. Pingback: No’ Sae Green…but Cabbage-Lookin’ | davidsberry

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