BY KEITH MACKENZIE
Police chiefs are “missing the point” over the impact national changes are having on rural areas, a Highland councillor has warned.
Andrew Baxter, Highland Council member for Ardnamurchan and Fort William, said it was misleading for bosses to suggest new approaches to policing would not have an adverse effect on the Highlands, simply because officer numbers in the area had been maintained.
At a meeting of Highland Council’s community safety, public engagement and equalities committee last Thursday, area Chief Superintendent Julian Innes told councillors that the number of officers working in the north — 675 – was the same as it had been before the constabulary was subsumed into a single Scotland-wide force in April.
However, Councillor Baxter said that statistic masked changes to the way police were deployed. He added that officers previously employed in a community role were now being moved to work in specialist divisions, with a remit to work all across the north of Scotland.
While he felt these specialist teams — which focus energies on areas like road policing, serious crimes and sexual abuse — were “fantastic units,” Councillor Baxter feared the changes threatened to pull resources away from rural areas.
“The Chief Superintendant kept repeating the statistic that there there are 675 officers, but that is is missing the point.” Councillor Baxter told the Free Press. “The way they are deployed has changed, and that is having an impact on rural policing and, I believe, on morale.”
The report which went before the meeting noted that 153 officers, previously of Northern Constabulary, continue to be based within the Highland area, but are now part of other divisions within Police Scotland. Restructuring will also see the number of mainland area commands in the region reduced from five to three. The new zones will cover north, south and Inverness.
The chief superintendent said the reality was that Police Scotland — created with the aim of saving £1.1 billion over the next 13 years — currently had “more officers than it can afford”.
Mr Baxter’s concerns were echoed by Councillor Hamish Fraser, although Chief Superintendent Innes did offer the Skye member an assurance that the island would retain its police inspector. The role is currently being filled on a temporary basis after the previous inspector, Mairi MacInnes, secured a position elsewhere.
In their response to Police Scotland’s review of public service provision — which recommends a cut to public counter sevices at some stations, and an extension at others — members broadly agreed with the proposals.