Police officers need to remain ‘pacifists in the culture war’, says ASPS president

Policing should not be drawn into the current “toxic” public debate around hate crime with officers needing to remain “pacifists in the culture war”, the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents (ASPS) will tell a landmark conference this week.

May 21, 2024
By Paul Jacques

At the Association’s Centenary Conference, ASPS President Chief Superintendent Rob Hay will outline that while officers have an important role in policing genuine hate crime they must not be drawn into the “petty point scoring” currently filling much of the public debate.

And he will highlight his fears that this current attempt to weaponise hate crime is diverting stretched police resources from those who actually need them.

Chief Supt Hay will also highlight how Police Scotland is now woefully under-resourced – with the lowest officer numbers in 16 years – and how this could affect the significant progress the country has made in curbing violent crime.

Cuts, politicians will be told, have consequences.

Chief Supt Hay will address the hate crime legislation that came into force in Scotland on April 1, which created a new crime of “stirring up hatred” relating to protected characteristics such as age, disability, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

He will say: “The divisive, political and toxic nature of some of the debate raging in wider society is not a place policing should ever inhabit. The flood of spurious complaints received upon the enactment of the new hate crime legislation is an example of the mischief-making we have seen, undertaken with spiteful glee and diverting police resources from those in actual need.

“So let us be pacifists in the culture war, as we have no interest in investigating Humza Yousaf for describing some white people as being white; nor are we interested in arresting JK Rowling, no matter how much she tweets about it.”

Regarding recent figures showing that Police Scotland now has the lowest number of officers in 16 years, Chief Supt Hay will reflect on the Scottish government’s previous promise of 1,000 additional police officers recruited and the difference they made.

This led to an unprecedented targeting of street gangs and a reduction in knife crime.

However, he will point out that since then, the policing workforce has shrunk to pre-2009 levels – Police Scotland had 16,356 officers at the end of March – the lowest since the end of September 2008, according to figures published by the Scottish government.

In a direct challenge to politicians and what direction they want Scottish society to travel and the consequences of cuts, Chief Supt Hay will highlight how, for instance, the NHS has grown 18.9 per cent over the past decade.

Chief Supt Hay will say: “The tale of how Scotland ‘beat’ knife crime is usually told through the lens of the Violence Reduction Unit(VRU). Nobody would deny the pioneering nature of the work the VRU undertook and have championed to this day.

“What is often forgotten, however, is 1,000 additional officers recruited into policing in 2007, all of whom went to frontline community policing. What is forgotten is the unprecedented targeting of active street gangs for proactive enforcement that went side-by-side with preventative interventions.

“What is forgotten is that everyone caught in possession of a knife would appear in custody, where bail would be opposed if they had previous convictions for similar offences. The success achieved was done so by blending progressive, novel approaches with conventional, visible, proactive policing measures.”

He will continue: “I reflect today on that progress, in the context of this month Scotland having the lowest police officer numbers in 16 years. The ‘1,000 extra officers’ are long gone. Policing is at the same time pulled in a thousand different directions by demand too often caused by gaps in other services. Let’s be clear: no gains we have made are guaranteed. There is no progress that cannot be lost.”

The conference – which runs throughout the day on Tuesday (May 21) in the Scottish Borders – will also hear from Chief Constable Jo Farrell and will take time to celebrate the achievements of the Association, which represents senior operational officers across Scotland.

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