Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley's 2026 vision

I meet the chief constable of Police Scotland as he is preparing to head to London for a colleague's funeral.

Friday, 21st April 2017, 1:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:05 pm
Chiefs plea...Mr Gormley wants members of the public to share their views on the 2026 Police Scotland strategy. You can complete the survey by visiting the website www.scotland.police.uk/about-us/policing-2026/ by May 8.

The random act of terrorism which claimed the life of officer Keith Palmer is, thankfully, not an everyday occurrence.

But with the terrorism threat level at severe across the UK, it is something the top man at Police Scotland has to be mindful of.

And it’s not the only thing he has to carefully consider when coming up with a plan for the future of policing in this country until 2026.

Policing the beat...but officers have far more than just the streets to police these days.

There are now far more demands on Police Scotland’s services and its officers’ time than ever before.

When the chief first joined the police force 30 years ago, officers were mainly employed on the streets, serving the public.

These days it’s a whole different ball game.

He explained: “People are living their lives differently so we’re in people’s homes far more than we used to be.

Policing the beat...but officers have far more than just the streets to police these days.

“We’re not only policing public spaces, but private and virtual (online) spaces too. So we have to become more sophisticated in how we police crime in the many different communities, and spaces, we serve.”

And to achieve that goal means employing the right mix of people.

The ten year strategy document proposes a restructure of the corporate, business support and back office staff.

Explaining why, the chief said: “We’d be able to free up in the region of 300 officers, currently dealing with admin duties, and get them back into our communities.

“We need to look at how demand is changing and what we need to do to respond to that – so the shape of the workforce will need to change.”

That also means Police Scotland becoming more flexible in the staff it employs.

“A lot of people don’t necessarily want to don a uniform,” said the chief. “Some roles require a different set of skills.

“We can’t compete in monetary terms with the corporate world but we can offer something more interesting for a few years – and it’s seductive too.

“However, we have to become more flexible as an employer. If we want to attract the best candidates we need to be as attractive as possible and appeal to the most diverse range of people we possibly can.”

Working with the public on a day-to-day basis is also changing, thanks to modern technology, and the force needs to adapt to this too.

One method proposed in the consultation is providing a two-way online portal to allow officers and the public to communicate better with each other.

Mr Gormley explained: “Our service is still very much telephone based but there are now a range of other ways people might want to communicate with our officers.

“People may simply want to report a crime so they can get a crime report number for their insurance.

“Most will appreciate we’re unlikely to find the culprit who smashed their window but the portal would enable them to get the crime number they need, online.

“101 is the main route just now for information and help but there are ways of making that service far more agile, enabling us to put even more human resources into fighting crime.”

Modern technology is also the key to ensuring officers spend less time in the office reporting crime and more time on the frontline.

The chief is candid when explaining that Police Scotland is behind the times in terms of that technology but believes it could, in turn, be an advantage.

Explaining how, he said: “We do need to play catch-up but one of the advantages of not being at the leading edge is that you can learn from other people.

“We don’t have to invest in technology we don’t know anything about, roll it out and hope for the best.

“We can invest in technology we know from experience works.

“For example, body worn cameras are already being used in 25 forces in England and Wales.”

The chief is also keen to arm officers with smartphones which would enable them to spend more time on the streets.

“We can record incidents and evidence on a camera and officers won’t have to return to the office to write up their reports,” he said.

“They can do it all on their smartphones but we have to do it in conjunction with the likes of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service so it’s a joined up approach.”

Which brings us to partnership working and how that is becoming ever more important in helping all the emergency services operate as a joint force.

The chief said: “Our budgets are unlikely to increase so we can either shrink apart or come together.

“We need to pool our knowledge and skills to help people in crisis and provide a more humane and appropriate response.

“We’re trying to get into a virtuous circle, rather than a vicious one.

“Many of the emergency services and local authorities deal with the same people in isolation. We need to work on sharing information ethically to prevent that which will, in turn, free up resources for us all.”

With domestic abuse, sexual offences, drug misuse and missing persons demanding more of officers’ time, a partnership approach is believed to be the best way forward.

But the chief now wants to know what the public priorities are.

He said: “We didn’t create this ten year strategy in a vacuum – there has been months of consultation with our partners.

“But we now need to know which services the public think are most important.”