Police Scotland 'detecting fewer crimes in attempt to save money'

Report into force's finances says budget constraints are having an impact on frontline policing and harming the welfare of officers.

Police Scotland is detecting and preventing fewer crimes as it attempts to rein in spending, according to a new report into the force’s finances.

The report, seen by 1919 Magazine, claims a freeze on officer recruitment had resulted in higher absence rates among police officers, as well as a fall in the crime detection rate.

The document also warns that budget constraints are having an impact on frontline policing, harming the welfare of officers and leading to higher levels of absence.

David Threadgold, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said every key decision made by the force over the past six months had been based on finances.

Threadgold wrote in the March edition of the justice and home affairs magazine: “I cannot accept that a single executive decision in the last six months has been based on anything other than finance.

“The welfare of officers has been a secondary consideration and I challenge anyone to produce evidence to the contrary.  

“Recent reporting of ‘success’ in reducing a projected overspend by £13m this financial year could be applauded, but at what cost?”

He adds: “Should the priority not be ‘low risk – high volume’ to prevent more serious incidents?

“The basic principles of engagement and proactivity are being lost and as a result we are becoming irrelevant in our communities. That is unacceptable.

“Police Scotland is becoming a reactive service where attendance will only be assured at ‘serious’ incidents.”  

Justice secretary Angela Constance highlighted “record” Scottish Government funding, with a budget increase for 2024/25, and said recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels since 1974.

But a recent financial report, presented at a Scottish Police Authority (SPA) board meeting, details how the force managed to cut the size of its predicted overspend for the 2023/24 financial year by £13.9m.

It stresses that attempts to balance the books have not come without consequences for Police Scotland, pointing to the recent recruitment freeze and a range of operational impacts.

The force had been expected to go over its 2023/24 budget of £1.4bn by £18.9m, but this figure has now been reduced to around £5m.

James Gray, Police Scotland’s chief financial officer, told the SPA meeting that while the cost-cutting programme had been successful, it also had “serious implications”, with the force unable to buy new equipment, invest in the latest technology or fix problems with ageing buildings.

The report states: “[The recruitment freeze] has had an impact on police officer’s welfare which has resulted in a higher level of absence, increased modified officers and there has also been reductions in proactive crime prevention and reductions in detection rate.

“Whilst the overtime management group has had an impact of significantly reducing overtime, this has had a similar impact to the reduction in officers in that there has been welfare implications, an impact on frontline policing and a decline in crime detection.”

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur told 1919 the Scottish Government had had “policing budgets in a chokehold for years, causing officer numbers to plummet to a record low and putting communities at greater risk”.

He said: “Officers feel unsupported, overwhelmed, and stretched dangerously thin. These pressures simply heighten the possibility of an exodus of experienced and skilled people from the service.

“With policing bodies now warning of a public safety crisis, it’s time for the Scottish Government to listen. Ministers must finally commit to resourcing the service properly and place the welfare of officers and staff at the centre of decisions about the future.”

In the recent Scottish Government budget, policing was allocated £1.55bn, up £92.7m or 6.4% in cash terms.

Appearing at the SPA meeting, Police Scotland chief constable Jo Farrell said the increase to the force’s budget in the coming year was an “important recognition” of its work.

The Scottish Government said its budget for next includes record police funding of £1.55bn – an increase of £92.7m. 

Constance said: “Scotland continues to have more police officers per head of population than England and Wales and Scotland’s officers are the best paid at all levels. Recorded crime is at one of the lowest levels since 1974.

“I welcome the new chief constable’s commitment to workforce wellbeing and that police officers and staff can access a range of services to care for their psychological and physical needs through Police Scotland’s ‘your wellbeing matters’ programme.”

But Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Russell Findlay accused the SNP of being in a state of denial about the situation.

He said: “Police officers and the public are paying the price of the relentless weakening of Scottish policing while SNP ministers are in a state of denial about the consequences of their own actions.

“Of particular concern is that the wellbeing of our hard-working police officers has allowed to become an afterthought. To gamble with officer safety is unforgiveable.

“The Scottish Conservatives are committed to reversing the SNP’s attack on policing with the provision of 1,000 extra officers.”

Police Scotland has been contacted for comment.

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