Baillie concerned at closure of some police station to the public – and why call centre approaches are counter productive

Local MSP Jackie Baillie,  has expressed serious concern at a controversial shake-up of police services which will see some police stations closing to the public, affecting her Dumbarton constituency – which includes the ward of Helensburgh and Lomond in Argyll and Bute.

Under the plans announced this week, the front desks at Alexandria and Garelochhead police stations will shut, potentially leading to the stations themselves shutting.

The 24-hour service in Dumbarton is also under threat, with police chiefs considering closing the front desk outside office hours and during the weekends.

The future for Helensburgh station is less clear, with the proposal only planning on retaining the current level of service ‘for the foreseeable future’.

It would be impossible to justify closing a station to the public in a town the size of Helensburgh and with the endemic gangland troubles it suffers, laid bare in recent major court cases.

Jackie Baillie has asked for an urgent meeting with Police Scotland to discuss the proposals but attributes the cuts to SNP budget choices, saying: ‘Only a couple of weeks ago a top police chief warned that the SNP’s £60 million budget cuts are bringing the service close to tipping point.

‘These proposed closures are the latest in a long line of service cuts which have seen police officers go from the beat to the back office to make up for declining numbers of support staff.

‘Police services should be face-to-face and rooted in the local community so that’s why I am seeking an urgent meeting with Police Scotland to make my concerns known.’

Commenting on the proposal to classify Helensburgh police station as a Category C service, Ms Baillie says: ‘Given the recent tensions in the Helensburgh community as a result of the Sharkey case, it is only right that current service levels at the station should be maintained.

‘However local people will be worried that Police Scotland are only proposing to keep the front desk open during evenings and weekends ‘for the foreseeable future’.

‘People who live in a town the size of Helensburgh expect to have a properly staffed police station which is open to the public. And frankly the people in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven expect the same.’

What happens when police stations are closed

This is an account of a personal experience in Ireland some years ago. It illustrates the ways in which the closure of police stations actively prevents the apprehension of offenders.

I had a day off and took my dogs for a walk at a long beach fringed by woodland and between the local B road and Belfast Lough, a ten minute drive away from where I lived at the time.

As I walked along the empty beach, I gradually became aware of ‘activity’, movement of some kind in the woodland.

I glanced across and up and saw a business man  – long dark overcoat and a briefcase – dashing between tress in a parallel direction to mine.

I was dawdling because my dogs were dawdling so he quickly got ahead of me. Because so formal a figure in such an apparent paddy was strange in this setting, I kept an eye on him. When he got ahead of me by about ten yards he stopped, turned towards me, dropped his brief case and revealed the nature of his urgency. He was a flasher.

I walked on to try to retrieve my dogs and as I moved, he grabbed his brief case from the ground and scrambled off again. I thought he was running away having done what he needed to do – but all he was doing was getting to another vantage point where he could expose himself again.

What was of concern was the manic urgency in him. He was  rushing, tripping, hurling himself forward to get to positions where he could repeatedly confront me.

I saw a couple come on to the far end of the beach some distance away and decided to carry on walking unti I intercepted them and ask if I could walk back with them.

I am small. My dogs were not – they were Irish wolfhounds, with plenty of speed but no defensive capacity at all. They looked business-like though, so I took comfort in that, calling them and putting both back on their leads.

The elderly couple I met thought I was some kind of nut case when I asked if I could walk back with them. I explained the reason, which confirmed their suspicions of me – as the culprit had gone behind some trees and was invisible.

However, as we walked edgily along together, desperation got the better of him and he began the same routine. He would charge ahead of us, find a vantage point, turn and, you might say, throw caution to the winds. Again and again.

The old pair were alarmed but comforted by the size of my dogs. I felt better for their company. When we got back to the near end of the beach where I’d started, the car park at the top of the shingle was empty, except for my car. I wondered where the flasher had come from in the kit he was wearing. I could see him up in the wood,  behind a tree, watching us.

I put the couple I was with in the car and drove them to the village they came from at the other end of the beach – Helen’s Bay.  They didn’t feel like running that gauntlet on the shore again, alone.

As we tuned right onto the road from Crawfordsburn Country Park, which gave access to the beach, there was a Mercedes saloon parked right up on the verge by the gate, on the narrow back road.

This had to be the outdoor enthusiast’s car. It fitted the kit he was and wasn’t wearing and there was no reason for anyone normally to leave a car in that sort of place in the middle of nowhere, with the car park a few hundred yards away.

I shot the old couple home as fast as I could go – they and the dog were airborne on a couple of bumps on the road – and rushed to Helen’s Bay Police Station to report the flaher in time for them to get out to the Park and wait for him at his car.

At this time, ‘the troubles’ meant that all police stations in Northern Ireland, rural or urban, were behind heavy duty security fences and gates as far from the station building as space allowed – to prevent them from being damaged by a bomb left in a car parked outside.

I looked for a bell of some kind. Nothing.

I expected to have been observed arriving and for someone to come out to interrogate me. Nothing.

I rattled the gate as hard as I could, thinking that annoyance at the row I was making would bring them out, if only to charge me with something. Nothing.

Eventually I knocked at a near by house and was told that there might or might not be anyone in the station but that it wasn’t open to the public any more anyway.

I tried one more time, with  no result and in extreme frustration, I drove away, imagining that the flasher would have been long gone and furious at the missed chance to have him caught.

When I passend the park, the Merc was still on the verge.

This beach – Crawfordsburn beach – was one where children and families came after school. By then I was very angry at the risk involved to others in my inability to get a squeak out of the police station.

I turned into the gate of the park, swung round to a position where I could keep sight of the Mercedes, switched off the engine, locked the doors and waited. My intention was to follow the car when he came back to it.

I waited for two and a half hours, by which time I had guessed he could see my car parked at a point of vigilance and was in a bit of a rut himself.

When dusk began to fall and the dogs were very restive, I had to pack it in. If I had parked the car in a concealed place and hidden somewhere in the ditch I might have managed to see him – but what could I then have done? I had no camera on me and would have had neither the security of being in a car nor any means of giving chase.

I went home and reported the incident to the police in Bangor and gave the registration number and details of the car – but with no evidence that the car bore any relation to the flasher. I heard no more about it.

The primary function of policing

This is a first hand example of why closing police stations and front desks to the public runs flatly counter to the raison d’etre of police.

The primary purpose of policing is prevention and apprehension, not the mere recording of incidents.

In this case, had the station either been open or staffed, this pest could very straightforwardly have been taken into custody. I could have identified him, as could the couple I had walked back with along the beach. We had seen enough of him.

Going home and phoning a call centre which would redirect my alert to the nearest possible station [miles away] would have been pointless in this sort of incident – which might as well have been witnessing the sort of break-ins that are happening just now across Mid Argyll , Knapdale and north Kintyre.

Provided there are any staff in a station, we cannot see any reason why public desks cannot be kept open. Officers could work in rotation at desks behind the counter and deal with public enquiries as and when they emerged – as many do.

If there are to be no staff in the stations who could multitask in this way, it adds weight to Jackie Baillie’s fear that closing front desks means approaching closure of stations themselves.

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10 Responses to Baillie concerned at closure of some police station to the public – and why call centre approaches are counter productive

  1. Yes let’s keep police officers behind counters at stations that have only 5 visitors in a day. What a waste of money.
    Get the police to patrol.

    Lets put the police behind the counters at Royal Mail — oops sorry Labour and the Tories are going to sell it off.

    Ms Baillie has kept quiet on that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  2. I also notice Mike Russel seems to have been completely silent about the fact that police scotland are looking to reduce the head count of inspectors in the area from 3 to 2, with the possible removal of the post in Rothesay

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  3. It does have the attraction to the senior officers that it reduces crime because people will find it more difficult to do so. Nothing new about an ex police friend told me that many years ago he would sometimes man a telephone to help out the one officer taking reports of crimes from the public. He got into trouble, twice as many people manning phones meant twice as many crimes recorded.

    It is no longer possible of course to ring a police station direct, you have to use 101 which is routed to the local police area. They then transfer to the area you want to speak to and they then transfer to the police station concerned. By that time it so faint that you can only just hear the other end and probably would not be able to hear them at all if your are in a noisy environment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  4. A pattern has now emerged of life under the SNP in outlying rural areas , local courts closed , local hospitals cut to the point of extinction ,local police stations under threat and local fire service centres also facing the axe, all so money can be used for the SNP’s pet projects .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  5. What a grim experience Newsie
    Pity your wolfhounds weren’t trained to pounce on and wolf down anything ‘Richmond Irish recipe’ in appearance.
    Of course in times where most of us carry mobiles and a 24/7 emergency helpline easily and quickly accessible (Unless in blackspot), police can be informed of complaints almost immediately allowing a more reactive and responsive course of action.
    We all have to appreciate that services have to take a hit. Interesting to here JB’s criticism of the Scottish Government’s budget cuts all having to be implemented within the constraints of devolution. Opposition allows her, her party and the others the luxury of condemning and finger pointing but how would her Labour party deal with Westminster’s austerity programme here in Scotland?
    Maybe JB would like the SNP to prioritise police, fine, at the expense of what? The cost of university education, cuts in health?
    It’s impossible to prioritise everything, she is well aware of this as well as John Swinney’s predicaments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    • Snp cuts no matter how you dress it up. Cuts that will lead to less reports of crime, forget your notion of we all carry mobile phones and 24/7 helplines, have you ever tried getting through to a local station on this?
      Local police stations in rural areas are vital and are being reduced to help fund Snp projects.
      Snp equals cuts!
      Then blame London ! Is it not time the Snp took some responsibility ?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  6. The church is not about buildings and neither is the police. The police are the public in uniform.

    There were a number of burglaries in Loch Lomonside recently,

    The gang was caught through technology and local People’s knowledge.
    The gang can’t understand how they were caught.

    A police station in Luss wood not have made a blind bit of difference!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. The Police need to evolve having a Police Office open means some one usually a Member of Police staff has to be there to service the counter. In Dunoon it may only have 2 or 3 enquiries during a shift. normal enquiries should be 9 -5 office ours all emergencies are covered by the treble 9 system. The council offices are not open 24/7 nor is the Hydro board why expect the Police to be as long as the officers and staff are on duty to respond to incidents when required public counters should be normal office hours.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

    • I had thought it was widely accepted that policing needed to be local to be effective . Now . those seeking to defend the SNP’s cuts are disputing this .
      Police operations work best where the officers are known in the community and are not some faceless wonders who drive in in high powered cars from some far off place .
      It is ridiculous to suggest that a front desk officer dealing with a few contacts a day does nothing else . We all know off the mountains of paperwork officers have to deal with , so to combine the two rolls should not be beyond police capabilities .
      The real disgrace here is the SNP decision to do away with local police forces and replace them with a remote centrally based ‘Scottish’ force

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

      • I recall a few years ago finding some stolen propoerty stashed in our garden during a spate of thefts from cars in the area when the police were calling for information.

        Dutifully, phoning in I got through to a call centre who knew nothing about it and asked me to drop it by the police station -which was about 15 miles from where I lived on a route I don’t normally travel.

        After a debate about whether the police would wish to see the evidence as it was found they eventually agreed to send someone along.

        When the “local” guy turned up he said “Oh, yes, I know who this belongs to, it was stolen the other night, she’ll be very pleased to get it back”, adding that a couple of people had been apprehended.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

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