Police Scotland (Response to Crime)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 27 February 2024.

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Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that Police Scotland’s proportionate response to crime pilot, in which not all reported crimes were investigated, is to be extended across Scotland. (S6T-01830)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

At a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority last week, the chief constable stated that the north-east pilot was about ensuring a proportionate approach to policing. Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham outlined preliminary findings, with a full evaluation to be presented to the Scottish Police Authority in the near future. Any decision on whether the pilot will be extended more widely is for Police Scotland, with oversight and scrutiny to be provided by the SPA. Public confidence will be key to that process.

Officers in the north-east will continue to investigate all reported crimes. That means that all reports will be recorded using the THRIVE model, which involves assessing threat, harm, risk, investigative opportunity, vulnerability and engagement. Police Scotland remains focused on keeping communities safe from harm.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

The Scottish National Party Government might not want to listen to Opposition members, but it should listen to Scotland’s police officers. The Scottish Police Federation could not be clearer about this surrender to criminals, which its chair says

“is being driven purely by finance and not by basic policing principles”.

Its general secretary revealed that it had not even been consulted on the policy being extended across Scotland. He said:

“The public have been let down.”

He is absolutely right. Will the cabinet secretary disclose how many crimes were not investigated in the pilot and how many more she expects will not be investigated across Scotland?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I do all members and all stakeholders the courtesy of listening to their viewpoints. It is a shame that that is not always replicated, in that the narrative from some misconstrues the pilot, which is regrettable.

I emphasise again what the chief constable said to the board and to observers—that the policy is not about non-investigation. Police Scotland has been clear that it will continue to investigate all crimes that are reported.

Every crime will be subject to an individual assessment. If there are no proportionate lines of inquiry and if there is no risk and no threat, a report will be filed and a crime reference number issued but, unless there is further evidence or information, there will be no further action. It is important to remember that, at the end of the day, the public want quick and proportionate responses, bearing it in mind that the changing demands on our society, changes in crime and the changing demands on our police force necessitate that.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I really do not think that the Scottish Police Federation is misconstruing the terms of the policy—I am surprised to hear the cabinet secretary suggesting that. Police officers and the public have absolutely no idea what crimes will not be investigated. That is exactly what is happening, no matter how it is spun. The pilot scheme’s evaluation report is also being kept secret. Will the cabinet secretary explain what crimes she considers to be sufficiently minor to be in effect decriminalised?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

It is Mr Findlay who misconstrues the pilot and deliberately misconstrues my words to the Parliament. I have to be clear with him that public confidence in the pilot and in the decision making about it, which is still to take place, is crucial, and that is why there is a robust evaluation process. If Mr Findlay had listened to the commentary and the contribution of the deputy chief constable at the SPA meeting, he would be aware that the policy is about having a proportionate response to each and every crime. We surely do not expect police officers to pursue a line of inquiry if there is no line of inquiry to pursue.

It is a shame that Mr Findlay continues to blister the importance of the approach, as it is about ensuring that we have public confidence, that we respond proportionately to each and every crime and that we work together to keep Scotland safe.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that the approach seeks to ensure a proportionate and appropriate response so that, where there are no lines of inquiry, information is recorded but no further action taken, which enables officers to concentrate on more serious crimes where there are opportunities for detection? Does she agree that it is important to reassure the public that, when evidence subsequently comes to light, the matter will be investigated?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

To be clear, there are occasions when reported crimes have no associated threat, risk, harm or vulnerability involved, and no proportionate lines of inquiry for police officers to investigate. I repeat that Police Scotland has been very clear that, when reported crimes have proportionate lines of inquiry—including those that arise after a crime has been reported—they will be investigated, as has always been the case. Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said:

“If there are no lines of inquiry that can be pursued, then we shouldn’t be, in some ways, setting up an expectation of ... things that police can do” when

“we can’t”.

I note that the preliminary findings that Deputy Chief Constable Graham outlined at the SPA meeting included the point that about 5 per cent of calls taken by Police Scotland fell into that category.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

It will be interesting to see whether the pilot approach has public confidence. One essential question is who arbitrates on whether a response is proportionate. How can the cabinet secretary ignore the Police Federation, which said that the policy

“sets a dangerous precedent and we should be very careful”?

Is this a slippery slope? If such crimes are not investigated, how do we know that other crimes will continue to be investigated? How can the cabinet secretary be sure that the policy has public confidence?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

That is a very important part of the evaluation process. The measures will be scrutinised robustly and thoroughly by the oversight group that the Scottish Police Authority has set up. The chair of the Scottish Police Authority will chair that group, which will examine many factors, at the core of which will be public confidence.

I repeat: surely we can not expect police officers to pursue lines of inquiry where no lines of inquiry exist. We will all want to see the full report along with the full evaluation but, as I said in my reply to Audrey Nicoll, the preliminary, summary findings say that less than 5 per cent of calls taken by Police Scotland fell into that category.

Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative

Former superintendent Martin Gallagher has described Police Scotland’s decision not to tackle minor crime as “disastrous”. That could include crimes such as vandalism, break-ins and antisocial behaviour in our communities. We often hear that levels of crime are falling, but it is estimated that 60 per cent of crime is unreported. How can the Scottish Government ensure that it is being tough on criminals when it is letting some away without investigation?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

To say that the police do not pursue lines of inquiry where they exist is a serious slur against policing in Scotland. We all have a shared endeavour, and I accept the scrutiny and the challenge. I accept that every member in the Parliament has an interest in ensuring that our communities are safe. Police Scotland investigates a massive range of crimes, from those that some of us may consider to be less serious to those that are of the utmost seriousness. We should look carefully at the pilot, but we should look first and foremost at the facts and the evidence.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for confirming that Police Scotland has always stated, as the chief constable has confirmed, that officers in the north-east continue to investigate all crimes that are reported, and that the service remains focused on keeping communities safe from harm. Will the cabinet secretary provide an explanation of the THRIVE assessments that were carried out on crime reports?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The THRIVE model is not new. It was rolled out as part of the contact assessment model in 2021 to ensure that all callers receive an appropriate response and that incidents are properly prioritised. Handlers consider the six key factors of threat, harm, risk, investigative opportunity, vulnerability and engagement for each call that is received, and if an immediate or prompt police response is required, the call is passed to the area control room and the most suitably located, skilled and equipped police officers will be dispatched. If the call does not require an immediate response, it will be passed to a specialist team of officers and staff for further assessment. In its 2022 assurance review of Police Scotland’s contact assessment model, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland noted that the THRIVE model was helping to determine the most appropriate response to reported incidents.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The cabinet secretary has referred on many occasions to the importance of public confidence, but it is not clear from her responses to date how public confidence will be assessed. Will she provide more detail on that and on engagement with victims groups, which will have a clear view on the approach’s effectiveness?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

That point is important. I expect that the evaluation and the full report will clearly address public confidence and feedback from the communities that we all seek to represent.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes topical questions.