BBC Scotland News and Print Journalism on Scottish policing: ‘Forces’ in crisis?


BBC Scotland and our ‘newspapers’ have dropped their attacks on NHS Scotland today and shifted to their other proxy war tactic of getting at the SNP via Police Scotland. This morning we heard of a ‘special investigation’ which will be reported more fully tonight as ‘BBC Scotland Investigates: A Force in Crisis’. Note the lack of speech or question marks in the title – guilty as charged?

Now, I have no doubt there will have been unacceptable behaviour by some officers, at some time, and that full transparency is desirable but it’s important to note that what we are hearing is an attempt to amplify the frequency and level of deviance so as to create a panic about the system as a whole. The resulting panic is then a useful addition to a strategy of attacking the independence movement indirectly by creating a climate of anxiety about aspects of Scottish society where blame can be attributed to actions by the SNP or to the possible consequences of being independent. This process of deviance amplification is generated by groups, ‘moral guardians’, who seek to benefit from public perceptions of a crisis – the Unionist parties and their media partners – when there is, actually, a less dramatic and less concerning environment experienced, day-to-day, by citizens.

There are three main criticisms of the media coverage of Police Scotland. First, not enough attention is given to the fact that the misbehaviour reported is historical, prior to 2014, and was, in most cases, the responsibility of the ‘legacy forces’ such as Strathclyde Police, which at the political level, were the responsibility of Labour-appointed officials.

Secondly, not enough attention has been given to Police Scotland’s actions, since then, to address their concerns. The public, I suspect I would want to know what the situation is in 2018, four or more years later.

Third, in accusing a force of being in crisis, the coverage must be broad enough to include the wider range of Police Scotland performance. Here is evidence to suggest that far from being in crisis, police Scotland is actually performing relatively well. See this comparative evidence, first on staffing:

 ‘Meanwhile, official figures show that the number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by 930 in the past 12 months, to 121 929, the lowest level since comparable records began in 1996. Police officer numbers are now 22 424 below their peak in 2009, when there were 144 353 officers.’

‘As at 30 June 2017, there were 17 249 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in Scotland.  This is an increase of 1 015 police officers from the position at 31 March 2007 (+6.3 per cent). Police officer numbers have decreased by 7 FTE officers in the last quarter, since 31 March 2017, and increased by 7 FTE officers in the last year since 30 June 2016.’

What do these figures mean in terms of the ratio of police officers to members of the public? See this:

Population England and Wales is 56 million

Number of police officers in 2017 was 121 929

Population Scotland is 5.3 million

Number of police officers in 2017 was 17 249

Ratio of population to officers England and Wales: 459/1

Ratio of population to officers Scotland: 307/1

So, Scotland has a much better ratio of police officers to members of the public and thus presumably presence on the streets.

Second, what about performance in terms of the level of crime during the years since the merger of forces?

‘The number of crimes recorded by police has also fallen by more than a third over the last decade.’

Isn’t this a hugely important consideration? Police Scotland with SNP Government funding has maintained its staffing as crime falls and Policing in England has seen a massive decline in staffing, under Theresa as Home Secretary, as murder in London surpasses that in New York:

I’m not saying the cases of spying and the instability in the top post don’t matter but they and the cases of failure, in two specific cases, matter much less than the overall performance of the force as evidenced in crime levels experienced by millions of citizens. Looking at the graph, above, we see crime continue to fall fast after the creation of Police Scotland. This is not evidence of a ‘crisis-hit’ service.

Third, back in October 2017, I was able to report on Police Scotland officers demonstrating how to defuse dangerous situations with a knife-holding person. I was impressed. It was clear that the NYPD officers would have shot the offender in every case. I felt relieved and proud of these Scottish officers. See this for more:

First New York Police and now Canada’s police come to learn from Scotland’s successes in tackling violence

More recently, we read that the London Metropolitan chief was to visit Scotland in the wake of a series of stabbings and murders in the city over the last year or so in the hope of learning how we have managed to reduce knife crime and knife possession dramatically in the last ten years.

Only the Guardian seemed to report the story. I could find no mention in Herald, Scotsman, or Record, nothing on the BBC Scotland and STV websites. Here’s what the Guardian had to say:

‘Met chief, Cressida Dick, will visit Glasgow on Friday to learn more about Police Scotland’s pioneering work on tackling knife crime in the city once known as the stabbing capital of Europe. Dick told the London assembly at the beginning of January that it was time to treat knife crime as a public health crisis, an approach credited with dramatically reducing deaths in Scotland, which little more than a decade ago had the second highest murder rate in western Europe. Of the 39 children and young people killed with knives in the UK last year, not one was in Scotland. The Violence Reduction Unit was set up in 2005 to tackle Glasgow’s deeply rooted blade culture that had barely moved on since the Gorbals gangland was immortalised in the 1935 novel No Mean City. Since then all knife crime rates have been incrementally reduced. Assaults involving knives had fallen by a third by 2012 and there was a 69% drop in recorded incidents of people carrying knives by 2016, according to Police Scotland figures.’

Again, I’m not excusing unacceptable behaviour by some in Police Scotland, at some time in the past, but I am pointing to an organisation’s wider performance and arguing strongly that this could only be seen as evidence of a crisis where those reporting are themselves in a moral crisis of journalistic standards which can be reasonably blamed on an anti-SNP agenda at editorial level.


7 thoughts on “BBC Scotland News and Print Journalism on Scottish policing: ‘Forces’ in crisis?

  1. Alasdair Macdonald. April 30, 2018 / 8:53 am

    Yes, I think you are right in your argument here. A wider perspective must be taken. That will include historic aspects, but, by being ‘historic’ the actions of the local police force governance has to be taken into account.

    You referred to the Violence Reduction strategy – of which I am a strong supporter – and mentioned North American police forces being interested. Recently, there was an incident in Toronto where a driver wilfully drove into pedestrians. He was chased and corned by the police. When he stopped he appeared to be holding was thought, possibly, a firearm and reportedly called on the police officer to shoot him. The police officer put his weapon away and arrested the perpetrator.

    Had this happened across the border, say in Detroit, I suspect the p[olice would have shot first.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. John April 30, 2018 / 1:51 pm

    I wonder if they manage to get an SNP Baaad section at the outset , or will they wait till nearer the end,after all that is the ultimate aim . Start off with ” police in crisis ” , end with how garbage the SNP are at controlling police , that sounds about right for the state broadcaster !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alasdair Macdonald. May 1, 2018 / 12:06 pm

    The Herald has a headline today about the number of cases which were ‘dropped’ because Police Scotland, reportedly, were ‘unable to meet the deadlines for submission to the courts’.

    The number of cases dropped is provided, but there is no presentation of context to permit an objective appraisal. Although the persons who were charged – and subsequently had these charges dropped – are, under our legal system, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, the Herald report identifies them as ‘drug dealers’, etc.

    This line of attack against Police Scotland is simple a continuation of the ‘Force in Crisis’ Panorama programme last night, which deals with historical issues which covered the first year of Police Scotland (which was introduced as a national force with all-party support) and the previous regional forces.

    The introduction today of minimum pricing has been used as another attempt to attack the Health Secretary.

    The two big political stories yesterday were, in Scotland, the decision by Labour and LibDems to oppose Westminster’s plans regarding repatriation of devolved powers and the resignation of Ms Amber Rudd and the appointment of Mr Savid Javid. The former was substantially ignored. The latter was spun as ‘the first ethnic minority Home Secretary’ and ‘son of a bus driver’, with photos of Mr Javid as a youth. Clearly there is Westminster news management going on.


  4. Alasdair Macdonald. May 1, 2018 / 12:22 pm

    Apologies to the new Home Secretary by the misrepresentation of his name. He is, of course, ‘Sajid Javid’, but the bloody autocorrect kept changing it to “David David”! In my foul-mouthed irritation at the electronic non-compliance, I corrected incompletely.


  5. Robert Graham May 1, 2018 / 1:09 pm

    I have long since given up listening to Anything this BBC in Scotland broadcast , everything has only one objective and surprise surprise it is to never give any kind of support to the freely elected government , even when its impossible to avoid any criticism and when something is done that benefits everyone the usual insertion of ” BUT ” is always there , they cant help themselves , The SNP have saved the world ” BUT ” thats how bloody stupid it has become .


  6. Ludo Thierry May 1, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    Small piece of good news anent the ‘Scottish’ print media.

    Johnston Press CEO Ashley Highfield ‘resigned’ from his post this morning (Oh aye – ‘resigned’ is it?). The ex-beeb executive who has been steadily drawing utterly eye-watering remuneration packages whilst the company piles up mammoth losses will have to look elsewhere for his multi-million crust in future. Oh dear – How sad – What a shame.

    Too late for JP though – can’t see them staggering on for much longer in their current format.


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