Evaluation of Police and Fire Reform: Year 2 Report

Assesses the extent to which the aims of police and fire reform have been met.

3 Assessment of case study evidence against the aims of reform for Police Scotland

3.1 Aim 1: To protect and improve local services despite financial cuts

3.1.1 Context

The evidence gathered in the Year 1 report suggested that significant progress had been made in Police Scotland towards rationalising service provision while maintaining routine operational delivery. There was a view at a national level that not only had the local level of service been sustained since reform but in some respects had been enhanced in ways which could not have happened without reform. In particular, the ability to surge resources into an area without having to draw on local personnel meant that a 'business as usual function' could be maintained even at times of increased demand. However, the Year 1 report also highlighted a number of on-going challenges:

  • Improvements in the quality and consistency of service through establishing specialist units had been viewed as having a negative impact on the resourcing of local policing teams;
  • Reductions in civilian staff had led to a perception that police officers were now undertaking roles previously undertaken by civilians;
  • Data from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey published in March 2016 showed since 2008/09 there have been statistically significant increases in public confidence across six measures but small and statistically significant reductions in positive attitudes towards policing in the period 2012/3 to 2014/5 for the proportion of adults confident in their local police forces ability to investigate incidents, deal with incidents, respond quickly and solve crimes.

3.1.2 Key findings from case studies


Across the case study areas, the evidence shows that since reform local policing teams have continued to provide a service which is valued by local communities and where the capacity to deal with increases in demand driven by major incidents was perceived by officers to have been enhanced in some of the case study areas by being able to access national resources. Those who had contact with the police in an emergency are generally positive about the response they received but there are mixed views from the public regarding more routine interaction, depending on the type of area. In more deprived areas, public perceptions of officers tended to be more negative while in rural and affluent communities views were more positive. For local officers one of the main issues was the cumulative effect of decisions taken at a national level to restructure and refocus the organisation, which have had a variety of intended (and unintended) consequences at a local level. This has resulted in concerns among officers, confirmed by the public, councillors and community and third sector organisations, regarding the visible presence of local officers and a perception that local resources available to deal with routine response and community engagement activities are increasingly stretched over larger geographical areas.

In all four areas, there were local policing teams comprising community and response officers whose role involves responding to calls for service from the public and engaging with local communities. This local service was valued by local communities who saw the police having to do a difficult job in challenging circumstances and where local resources were in some of the case study sites increasingly stretched over larger geographical areas.

In all four case study areas, however, local officers were also experiencing the cumulative consequences of national level decisions which were impacting on the level of available resources locally, the effects of which were recognised by local councillors, council staff and community organisations. As the Year 1 report indicated these national decisions related to redeployment of officers to specialist teams, reductions in civilian staff, and restructuring of resource provision and geographical responsibilities. In relation to redeployment, the evidence gathered for the case studies confirms findings in HMI Local Inspection reports [12] that the creation of specialist teams had resulted in some officers being redeployed away from the local area and not replaced:

'The biggest thing for us is staff, since Police Scotland came along are the specialist units up here that we never used to have before, taking frontline officers and putting them in there, and never ever replaced them on shift' (Area C - police officer)

The processes of reducing duplication in support services brought about by reform has also led to reductions in the numbers of civilian staff across Police Scotland. One consequence of this rationalisation was that some support services were now being provided by centralised administrative teams. Based on experience, some local officers felt that accessing these teams worked well although others thought the lack of face-to-face contact with support staff had increased the time taken to get administrative tasks done. There were also fewer civilian staff providing administrative support to officers at the stations. As a result, some of the responsibilities, for which civilian staff had previously provided assistance, were now more commonly carried out by police officers, such as dealing with public inquiries at the front desk in police stations, typing up notes, and running checks on databases. Community councillors also mentioned their concerns that taking on these roles meant local officers had less time to engage with them on community issues.

The rationalisation and restructuring of resources as part of the process of reducing duplication has had other impacts on local policing. The most commonly mentioned by local officers across all the case study areas was in relation to accessing custody suites. In the case study areas local custody suites would be closed due to a lack of resources or were now permanently located further away from the local police stations where officers work than before reform, increasing travel times with detainees and leading to longer periods of absence from local area. Since reform, officers also spoke of having to cover wider geographical areas than previously, partly as a result of the closures of other police stations in the locality. The public, community organisations and councillors in the case study areas were aware of these changes and the potentially negative consequences for community engagement and levels of local knowledge. Their concerns coalesced around a number of issues including the larger police beat areas, a perception that they no longer knew their local officers and that these officers rarely attended community events, more limited access to officers at the local station, and the presence of officers from outside the local area:

'I'm not saying there's none but it's more and more...not locals. So they're no' aware of the area, they're no' aware of where there is trouble'. (Area D - public focus group)

In addition to these organisational issues, the officers interviewed in all the case study areas highlighted the importance of both IT provision and access to vehicles for efficient and effective local service delivery. In relation to IT, officers spoke positively about improved access to IT support services since reform and their ability to access computers remotely. The move to a centralised system for the Vulnerable Person Database was also mentioned as a positive example of improved IT-enabled information sharing across Scotland. For the officers, the introduction of new systems which make it quicker to type up cases was seen as an improved and time-saving process. Officers also identified improvements to the staff intranet as a positive tool for communication.

Despite these positives, there were concerns about the reduction in the number of available computers, the failure to deliver I6, the time taken for IT issues to be resolved once they had been logged through the central support line and the time consuming nature of using multiple computer systems [13] . With respect to vehicles, local officers across both urban and rural case study areas felt that reductions in police budgets had impacted negatively on both access to and the quality of vehicles available to local policing teams.

3.2 Aim 2: To create more equal access to specialist support and national capacity

3.2.1 Context

In the Year 1 report it was noted that there is now detailed documentary evidence about the establishment and functioning of new arrangements for accessing specialist expertise and national capacity. Interviews with key informants indicated that, of the 3 aims of reform, this was the one in which greatest progress could be demonstrated. Pre-reform, the limited and cumbersome nature of formal processes for requesting specialist policing support from other forces meant that demand was sometimes artificially suppressed. Now there are processes in place to access resources via the Operational Support Division ( OSD, which includes air support, the marine unit, dogs and horses, and firearms) and the Specialist Crime Division ( SCD). There are also Major Investigation Teams ( MITs) for the North, East and West areas which focus on homicides and other serious crime.

The Year 1 report also highlighted some on-going challenges in relation to accessing specialist support and national capacity and the evidence gathered in Year 2 indicates that these remain important areas for attention:

  • The creation of national, area, divisional and local specialist units was having some negative impacts on the availability of local 'frontline' resources.
  • The lack of cross over between specialist units and local policing teams had led to concerns about the flow of intelligence and the potential for local officers to become de-skilled through a reliance on national expertise.
  • The financial constraints faced by Police Scotland meant there were concerns about the capacity of national teams to meet all the demands being placed on them from across Scotland.

3.2.2 Key findings from case studies


Evidence from the case study areas indicated that local officers' experience of accessing national capacity and specialist services had improved in some respects since reform. There was also a perception that there had been no change or that the process had become more bureaucratic. When national capacity was deployed it allowed local policing teams to maintain service delivery in times of high demand and specialist teams brought high levels of skills and expertise to apply to specific local policing issues, such as a high risk missing person or murder investigation. However, local officers also expressed concerns about the capacity in some of the specialist teams to respond to local incidents in a timely way. Officers also felt there was still scope for improving internal communication between local and specialist teams and for assessing the longer term implications of this model of service delivery for the distribution of skills across the organisation.

There were some broadly positive views expressed about the improvements in access to specialist services that reform had brought about. For example, there was a view that officers can now draw upon resources and expertise which prior to reform they would have had limited or no access to. This was a view particularly voiced by those working outside the boundaries of the legacy Strathclyde Police force area who now felt that the visibility and availability of Major Investigation Teams and air support in particular had increased. The changes in structure for specialist support teams not only meant that officers perceived Police Scotland to be better able to cope with serious incidents throughout the country, but also that they saw the centralised management of specialist support services as allowing these teams to take a broader, national view, enabling the expertise of such teams to be applied in a more targeted manner. When specialist teams did attend a local incident or event, their interventions were seen in a positive way. Local officers recognised the quality and value of the specialist skill sets they brought to the job: the specialist teams were seen as good at what they do and as hard working and helpful. The value of the specialist teams was also seen to lie in their ability to relieve pressures on local officers, both as a result of the specialist capability they were able to provide and by allowing local policing capacity to remain focused on delivering a local service.

Nevertheless, there remained aspects of the process of accessing specialist expertise which local officers felt (based on their experience) could be improved and there are wider implications of this model of service delivery which would benefit from further consideration. In terms of process, the perception among some local officers who were now making use of a range of new processes and structures for accessing specialist support was that they were quite bureaucratic, particularly when compared with the more informal system for arranging specialist support that existed prior to reform. There was also a perception among local officers that specialist teams found it more difficult to respond to spontaneous as opposed to pre-planned incidents and that there could be delays in the deployment of specialists if they were already committed to activity in another area. In particular, some local officers expressed concerns about the capacity of some specialist teams including the dog and road policing units and scenes of crime officers to meet all the demands that were placed on them and the competition that now exists between regions for resources.

As a model of service delivery, the division between specialists operating as a regional or national resource and generalists working at a local level has important benefits in terms of efficiency and effectiveness but this division of policing labour brings with it risks that need to be carefully managed. For example, the centralised management of specialist teams and their physical location at a distance from local policing teams meant some local officers reported that they only have limited knowledge about the role, purpose and remit of some specialist teams and would welcome further insight into what they do. Local officers also expressed concern that the centralisation of specialist support teams might present a barrier to local career progression and their opportunities to learn new skills, as investigations of a serious nature were now passed immediately from local police teams to specialist teams. Similarly, local officers perceived a potential problem in the future if those who remain in specialist teams lose the skills required to operate as a generalist in a local policing role. Improvements in internal communication and building better mutual understanding would help address these issues and mitigate the development of an 'us and them' culture between local officers and specialist teams.

3.3 Aim 3: To strengthen the connection between services and communities they serve

3.3.1 Context

The Year 1 Report highlighted the difficulty of assessing progress in relation to the third aim of reform given that much of the evidence tends to be descriptive rather than analytical, focused on the 'what' (what new arrangements are in place) rather than the 'so what' (what are the impacts and implications of the new arrangements).

Positive developments that were noted in the Year 1 report included improved access to local senior officers although this was caveated by some concerns about perceptions of their limited autonomy with regard to decisions taken at a national level that had significant local impacts. In terms of partnership working, key informants noted that there remains a strong commitment to this within Police Scotland but also noted that some momentum was lost around this in the early stages of reform.

In terms of evidence gaps, the Year 1 report noted the lack of evidence about the nature of the interactions, experiences and relationships between local groups and the police although data from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (March 2016) showed since 2008/09 there have been statistically significant increases in public confidence across six measures but small and statistically significant reductions in positive attitudes towards policing in the period 2012/3 to 2014/5 for the proportion of adults confident in their local police forces' ability to investigate incidents, deal with incidents, respond quickly and solve crimes [14] .

3.3.2 Key findings from case studies


In all the case study areas the public and local councillors were generally very positive about their interactions with local policing teams, particularly in rural areas where there was a strong sense of the need to work collaboratively. Nevertheless, local officers, councillors, third sector organisations and the public were aware that community engagement activities and locally based joint initiatives were under pressure from other demands on policing. Dissatisfaction with the use of the 101 non-emergency number was expressed by some members of the public as well as with the closure or limited opening times of some police stations. With respect to partnership working, there was clear evidence that this was viewed positively by police, councillors, council staff and third sector organisations and that it was of strategic importance and was well supported by the attendance of senior officers at partnership meetings. Nevertheless, in all 4 areas the evidence suggests that for local police officers their ability to work effectively with partner agencies was under pressure from resource constraints across the public sector and that there was scope for improving information sharing and internal and external communication about the outcomes of partnership initiatives.

Interaction with communities

The public and local councillors were generally very positive about their interactions with their local policing teams, particularly in rural areas where there was a strong sense of the need to work collaboratively. The public were aware of and valued the activities that the police undertake to engage with the local community, for example, visiting local schools, attending local events and community council meetings. However, the public perception was that police attendance at community events and meetings had decreased in recent years and local officers also voiced concerns about their capacity to maintain community engagement activities, such as attending community council meetings, visiting schools and providing support to victims and witnesses. This was seen partly as a product of taking on additional local responsibilities, changing shift patterns and having to work across wider geographical areas since reform, but also reflected a more general perception that at a national level the expectation from senior management was for them to be more focused on response and enforcement rather than engagement activities. For local officers this experience resulted in being less well-known in local communities which reduced the opportunities for gathering local intelligence:

'It's sometimes hard, as much as we are community officers we don't always get to be community officers a lot of the time because the response police are quite often so small in numbers that a lot of the time we are missing community meetings. We don't get to…pop into schools - we should be visiting the schools every couple of weeks. We don't get to do it a lot of the time due to all the other factors - covering front bar, police officers covering prisoner watches, just doing different things that a lot of the time it does feel like you're not a police officer.' (Area B - police officer)

These concerns were underlined by local councillors who described police attendance at community council meetings as being less consistent since reform, although starting to improve. Local officers also felt that the decision to shut some police stations or limit their opening hours as a way of dealing with budgetary pressures had made it more difficult for the public to contact the local police. The public, councillors, and community organisations were also aware of station closures and changes in the opening hours of the police stations in their local area and had concerns about the signal this sent to the local community about the accessibility of the local police and the ability to report crime and share information.

Following the introduction of the single non-emergency number for Scotland, the limited opportunity for direct telephone communication between the public and their local police officers had led to some officers voicing concerns that the public were now less likely to report low level incidents or suspicious behaviour. Members of the public felt that low level crimes and incidents, such as vandalism, which were reported through the non-emergency number were given a low priority and that it might not be worth reporting them. Consequently, local officers indicated that they were receiving less information from the community about what was happening in their local area and that some types of low level crimes might be going unreported and therefore not reflected in police crime figures. This concern was shared by the public, councillors, council staff and community organisations who mentioned delays in responses to 101 calls and not being able to speak to someone locally. This was seen as a particular issue in rural areas where community organisations also expressed concerns that the public were less likely to report crimes and provide intelligence through 101 than if they could speak directly to a local officer:

'…And then they'll tell you something like this guy is selling drugs, or this guy is doing that or whatever. And uh...they say ah yes this is 2 weeks ago but I just can't get hold of the front counter staff to let the police know and I don't bother with 101…' (Area C - police officer)

'So it's just you've lost the kind of...I think the police have lost a source of information you know they're not in...they're not in touch with the grassroots if you like...the people, because they're behind call centres, or...you know?' (Area C - community organisation)

The introduction of the 101 number was also perceived to be problematic by members of the public and some local officers because of their concerns about the level of local knowledge held by contact centre staff. The public in rural areas felt that the 101 number was being covered by people who were from outside the local area and who did not know the locality, a concern shared by some officers who felt that knowledge of the local areas was especially crucial to help direct them to remote locations, for example in relation to road accidents [15] .

Partnership working

In all four areas local officers mentioned a wide range of partners they worked with including: the fire service, social work, the NHS and the ambulance service, other criminal justice agencies, local authority departments (such as environmental health and community wardens) and third sector organisations (dealing with issues like drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and homelessness). In rural areas with particular risks, such as flooding, there were also regular emergency planning meetings and debriefs after incidents with the different services about what worked well and what did not work well. Of the more senior officers interviewed there was regular interaction with councillors at local meetings as well as more informal contact.

Across all four areas, partnership working was viewed very positively by police, councillors and third sector organisations. It was seen as being given a high priority and of strategic importance and was well supported by the attendance of senior officers at partnership meetings. Where there was co-location of police and council staff, there were particular benefits in terms of joint working on community safety issues. Specific examples of positive partnership activity in rural areas included joint activities between the police, mountain rescue and the coast guard, while in urban areas the relationship with community wardens was also highly valued and council workers described positively working with the police on prevention-focused initiatives.

However, the ability of local officers to work effectively in their day-to-day duties with partner agencies was being affected by the resource pressures felt by all services. There was a perception among local officers that financial cutbacks in partner services and their increased workloads have had an impact on working relationships. Services such as the NHS, social services and youth services, fire and ambulance were all seen as facing constraints which impact on their capacity for joint working and information sharing.

The scope to improve partnership working was raised by a number of interviewees in all of the case study areas. For local officers this focused on better internal communication within Police Scotland between those attending partnership meetings (typically Sergeants or more senior officers) and constables working in communities. At present, local officers felt they did not always hear directly from senior local officers or the local councillors about issues impacting on the community and they, in turn, were not able to share their own local policing knowledge. There were also some more general concerns about information sharing between police, council departments and third sector organisations. Although in some places there were positive experiences, in other areas there were often concerns expressed by the police about the length of time it took partners to provide information, and by partner organisations about a lack of information provided by the police about local crime issues. Council staff in both urban and rural areas also felt that the police sometimes wanted to make things happen faster than they were comfortable with, and had concerns about both the negative impacts of a target driven approach to policing and the high turnover of local officers on building strong long term relationships at a local level.

Negotiating boundaries of responsibility in a context of limited resources was also an issue that was raised in many of the police interviews. A wide range of examples were provided of local officers being tasked with roles they believed should be the responsibility of another agency, including responding to noise complaints, people with mental health issues, missing children, and housing issues. A particular concern is dealing with calls leading to accompanying people with mental health issues to hospital which was widely seen as not a policing role and something that social work or the health service should be dealing with. Officers did not feel that they were equipped to deal with these situations as they did not have adequate training in assisting people with mental health issues.

3.4 A changing working environment: The wider impacts and implications of reform for local police officers

In addition to providing insights into the progress towards achieving the three aims of reform, the local case studies have also provided important information on the wider impacts, implications and unintended consequences of reform for the working environment of local officers. This is important because, as the Year 1 report highlighted, the rapid pace of change, concerns about communication and feedback within the organisation combined with increasing workloads all contributed to a decline in morale during the first phases of reform. This was underlined by the SPA/Police Scotland Opinion Survey carried out in 2015 which also highlighted significant areas of workforce dissatisfaction in relation to information and communication, feedback, training, career development and well-being. The response rate to this survey was only 39% for those involved in local policing (compared with an overall response rate of 51%) and those in local roles were less positive in their views than those working in other areas of policing.

Work is being taken forward within Police Scotland to address concerns raised in the Opinion Survey and the findings presented in this section can help inform that activity by providing qualitative evidence of issues of the way reform is perceived as impacting on the working environments of local police officers and their suggestions of how this could be improved.

3.4.1 Internal communication

Wider research on organisational change consistently highlights the difficulties of sustaining effective internal communication during a period of reform. For local officers the challenges of internal communication have been manifest in different ways. Many of the constables interviewed in the case study areas felt that they now had less access to and interaction with more senior officers than they did before reform, which was partly explained by changes to the physical location of supervision and management teams which may now be at some distance from local stations. One consequence was that local officers felt that the primary form of communication between senior and lower ranking officers was now by email. Much of that communication focused on the 'what' and 'how' of changes but there was a clear desire to hear more from senior officers about the reasons why changes were being introduced:

'Why can't our Inspectors and our Chief Inspectors come in and engage with us, and actually explain to us the reasoning behind why they want these things done?' (Area B - police officer)

There was also a desire to receive more open and honest communication about the resource challenges that Police Scotland faces as it moves forward into the transformational phase of reform.

In terms of supervision of local officers, there was a positive view of line managers who were described as supportive, helpful, and offered guidance on how to handle difficult situations. However, officers also felt that the increase in the number of officers that Sergeants now have to supervise meant there was less direct supervision and some officers in rural areas mentioned that supervisors can be based in a different location to some of the officers they supervise, increasing the challenges around effective communication.

Many officers also discussed communication around the use of targets within Police Scotland and although there was widespread awareness that the appointment of a new Chief Constable in 2016 had led to a change of approach in this area, some local officers interviewed for this phase of the evaluation still perceived an organisational pressure to deliver targets:

'…they were quite clear that there were no targets for operational cops however, divisional commanders were being pressured into providing answers to...senior members of the Executive as to why their stop/search figures were down or why their assault rate was up, the commission rate, or why the volume of serious assaults were up.' (Area B - police officer)

The significance of targets was also about how these communicated a message to local officers about what the organisation viewed as important and many of the targets were seen as having an enforcement rather than engagement focus:

'So we're still kind of getting things there, a lot of the time it is extra pressure on us because we could be out and we're community officers, so we should be out engaging but you never ever get a well done you've went around and you've visited your schools, and you've visited the shops, you never ever get that. It's well why have you not got a return, why have you not got somebody out smoking drugs, or out drinking, why have you not got anything so I think that definitely is still a pressure of you need to come back with something and there's never a...very little is there a well done you!' (Area B - police officer)

3.4.2 Training and career development

Local officers perceived less training available since reform and that this was largely 'role-based' and orientated to those in specialist functions. Those performing more generic roles in local policing saw this as limiting the range of work that they can be involved in and restricting their ability to move to specialist teams and therefore their career opportunities:

'But I think ... there's a lack of a skill base for each officer. We…we're all Constables. We all detect and prevent crime, but we need to have more feathers in our cap, more things that we can go and speak to people, and help people with. If I was more knowledgeable on child protection issues, you know, I could go out and speak to local youth groups regarding this, and…but we don't get training on these things.' (Area D - police officer)

The scope to go on secondment to a specialist team to gain experience for career development was also seen as limited, in part due to these teams becoming national resources based in a small number of locations.

These concerns fed into wider issues about career development. Some officers felt that the creation of a single national police force had increased their career opportunities compared with legacy force arrangement, as they did not have to apply to a new police force to access a wider range of opportunities, although they recognised that there may still be a need to relocate to join different specialist teams.

Other officers felt that opportunities for promotion had been reduced. They perceived Police Scotland as moving to limit the overall number of Sergeants and Inspectors, resulting in promotions being on hold. Officers also perceived that there were now fewer places available on the diploma course required for promotion to Sergeant and Inspector, leading to more competition and an increasing time to wait to attend the course. The combination of these developments means officers saw themselves waiting many years before they were able to get promoted. There was also a view that younger officers may leave the service if they weren't promoted especially as other benefits, such as pensions, have also been cut back.

Many officers mentioned the lack of an appraisal process under Police Scotland. In the past, officers described having an annual appraisal, where their performance was measured against competencies for their role. This was seen as useful for discussing their career development, agreeing training needs and was seen as important if officers wanted to go for promotion.

3.4.3 Officer morale, retention and well-being

Many of the issues described above and in previous sections of the report appeared to be contributing to low levels of morale among local officers, something confirmed in HMICS local inspections and the SPA/Police Scotland workforce survey:

'…think everyone's suffering from low morale since… since it (Police Scotland) came in. I've never seen anything like it. When I joined, it was…it was quite up… you know, it was very upbeat, you know? It was a great job to get into, you know?' (Area B - police officer)

Specific concerns included the impact of having reduced resources, or being asked to do more with the same resources; the increase in paperwork and the subsequent impact on officers' workloads; the lack of paid overtime and limited flexibility in working patterns; the reduction in pension benefits; and a lack of positive feedback from senior officers. The amount of change officers are having to cope with was also seen as having a negative impact on morale:

'And I think a lot o' cops are upset because they are demoralised because things are changing all the time. It may be a change in domestic procedures, stop/search procedures, roads policing procedure… er … and every couple o' days there's a change. The laws are not changing. It's just how we deal wi' them. Can we no just slow down and have a proper think? … er … make sure things are working first and then, and, if it's not working, change it? - Instead o' just saying, "Oh, quick ... quick …Right. Oh, we'll change it now"' (Area D - police officer)

While there were some differences in perceptions between more experienced officers compared with newer officers who had not worked under the previous systems, there were shared concerns about the consequences of low morale for retention and levels of stress. Officers felt that the changes in working conditions, such as the lack of overtime, reduced pension and increased workloads, had led to many experienced officers leaving the service. The police, it was argued, was no longer seen as a career for life and officers may now only work as an officer for a few years and then pursue a different career. Officers also felt that the job of a police officer had become more stressful, in part due to the experience of increased workloads and the addition of new procedures which created additional administrative tasks. Officers felt that sickness levels had increased since reform and also that officer's physical and mental wellbeing were being affected by the changes that had occurred since reform [16] :

'And I just think everybody's getting stressed oot, because the workloads are getting bigger. You're no getting the time to do the enquiries, yet obviously you've got court dates to meet, you've got deadlines to meet for getting, you know, like reports done and stuff, and you're just .. You've just no got the time because you've no got the manpower to deal wi' the work that's coming in! to get stuff done' (Area D - police officer)


Back to top