Community Police Officers

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Justice and Law Officers – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 2:15 pm, 1st March 2007

To ask the Scottish Executive how many community police officers there are in Scotland. (S2O-12202)

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

The number of police officers involved in community policing duties varies on a daily basis depending on the demands faced by individual forces. As a result of Executive investment, the total number of police officers available to be deployed by chief constables has increased by around 1,500 since 1999.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I thank the minister for her response and also for putting on the record the record numbers of police in Scotland under the Executive.

In the minister's answer, she indicated that there is uncertainty about how many police officers work as community police officers on a daily basis. That reflects some of the concerns of my constituents in Penicuik where, on a shift-by-shift basis, dedicated community officers are pulled away from the area. Does she recognise that, as happened following the antisocial behaviour legislation, there is now a need for community policing plans, which police boards could contribute to, put together and report on to the Executive? The Executive would then be able to release funds for, potentially, 1,000 more community police officers in Scotland. That approach would be remarkably similar to Liberal Democrat policy.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Of course, I cannot comment on Liberal Democrat policy, which is a matter for that political party. However, I am well aware that many people in local neighbourhoods want more visible policing. They want the police to be there to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour hot spots. That is why we have increased not only the overall number of police officers, but the number of back-room and support staff. We have also introduced community wardens, a measure that some parties do not appear to support—even now, when communities support them.

It is important to recognise that the deployment of individual officers is a matter for the chief constable. It is of course right and proper that local police boards reflect the needs and wishes of local communities, and there is rightly a role for local elected members in that. I hope that governance at that level will be improved in future, and that the needs of local communities will be met, whether by an increase in officer numbers or by a combination of police officers working with community wardens.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Obviously, the minister is correct that the deployment of officers is a matter for chief constables, but they can allocate only the officers that they have available to them.

Following on from Mr Purvis's point, is the minister aware that, in Lothian and Borders, community officers are routinely pulled into the city centre for events at, or relating to, the Parliament? Although the city centre police unit, located in the Parliament, is welcome, there is clearly still a gap in the provision of officers to work on related matters. The Metropolitan police in London have capital city status and, although some genuflection has been made towards the city of Edinburgh and Lothian and Borders police by the creation of the city centre police unit, we still do not have adequate capital city status. Will the minister address that issue to ensure that community officers can be community officers and do not have to be brought in routinely for parliamentary and other matters?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

As Mr MacAskill rightly says, we increased the funding for Lothian and Borders police to deal with some of the pressures in and around the city centre. However, it would be wrong of me as a minister—and as a politician—to interfere in the day-to-day operational duties of the police and in the work of the chief constable. In some forces, chief constables have taken the decision to ensure that community officers are not routinely taken from their community duties. However, it is important that chief constables have the flexibility to be able to deal with the issues that face them.