The chief constable of Police Scotland has urged his counterparts elsewhere in the UK to examine the insights of the ‘hard-earned lessons’ of reforming Britain’s second-largest police force.
Police Scotland formed in 2013 with the merger of eight regional forces and two specialist agencies and now employs 23,000 people across a one third of the UK’s geographical area.
Writing in today’s Guardian, Iain Livingstone cited a recent Scottish government survey which found that 87% of respondents trusted the police service. This compares with just 33% for the Metropolitan Police, according to a YouGov survey in October 2021.
It follows intense scrutiny of police forces in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, and the publication of a report into misogyny and discrimination at Charing Cross, which led to the resignation of Dame Cressida Dick as commissioner.
“There is a moral imperative and operational necessity for policing to lead change to improve the experiences of all our communities, including our own officers and staff,” said Livingstone. “Words and good intent are not enough. There must be action; practical, firm, progressive, visible action.”
Police Scotland reforms
He acknowledged that Police Scotland had faced its own issues, in the shape of the employment tribunal for Rhona Malone which found a “boys’ club” culture in the force’s firearms unit, and a review of Police Scotland’s complaints process which called for fundamental overhaul.
“Operational failings, or when we don’t live up to our values, are rightly subject to critical review and require persistent leadership, focus and action,” he said. “We must face up to the cultural challenges of UK policing as a whole, of other sectors and organisations, and of wider society.”
He wrote that reforming Scotland’s police service had been enormously challenging and, that while the force did not get everything right, much progress had been made. He added that Police Scotland has strengthened operational competence, for example, in solving all but two of 520 murders committed since 2013.
He also highlighted that success of Police Scotland’s security operation for last November’s Cop26 summit, which resulted in no significant violence or disorder and few arrests.
Last week, the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales, chaired by Sir Michael Barber, made 56 recommendations urging radical reform to police culture, skills and training and organisational structure. It included the idea that a new licence to practise for all police officers should be introduced, which would require renewal every five years, subject to strict conditions.
It also suggested the merger of back office functions across the 43 forces that would save hundreds of millions of pounds.