It looks like Scottish Police forces will soon be given the go ahead to employ civilian investigators to assist in the detection of crime across the country. Not all are in favour of such a move, but it looks like the Government is …
The Scotsman reports :
Published Date: 08 April 2009
By michael howie
home affairs correspondent
THE use of civilians to carry out investigations for the police appears set to be extended across Scotland with independent evaluators giving their strong backing to a controversial pilot scheme.
Critics have branded the Priority Crime Unit set up by Central Scotland Police "policing on the cheap" – but The Scotsman has learned it has been given independent backing by a new report which supports its wider use.
The Falkirk-based unit has seen specially-trained civilians gather evidence in 3,500 crimes since it was began work last year.
Tasks carried out by the investigative assistants include reviewing CCTV footage, interviewing witnesses and carrying out door-to-door inquiries.
Senior officers are hopeful that Kevin Smith, the chief constable of Central Scotland Police, will extend the scheme across the whole force. Last year, the force dealt with nearly 20,000 crimes.
Other chief constables, keen to cut costs so more officers can be put on the beat, are closely following the scheme.
The evaluation report, produced by the Scottish Institute for Policing Research, has yet to be published but a draft has been sent to the force.
It highlights a number of benefits including the amount of police time saved by sending investigative assistants to "mop up" all the basic crime investigation at one time.
This geographical approach is more efficient than the traditional method whereby police officers concentrate on a specific crime.
Other benefits are said to include a better service to victims, with investigative assistants able to spend more time listening to their concerns.
And prosecutors who can find it difficult to track down an investigating officer say the scheme gives them a single point of contact.
Acting Chief Superintendent Gavin Buist, from Central Scotland Police, said:
"The implementation of the unit has been positive. What we will be doing now is fine-tuning."
He insisted the past 12 months since the unit was set up have put paid to fears voiced by politicians about letting civilians carry out crime investigation.
"There were two major concerns raised. One was the issue about non-police officers investigating crime," he said.
"We have demonstrated, categorically, that good quality investigation is not the sole preserve of police officers.
"The second was that the public wouldn't want it. That is not an issue. Assistant investigators make it very clear who they are and what they are doing. We've not had a single complaint about not sending a police officer," Mr Buist added.
"People who report crimes want someone who is interested, who cares, who takes time with them. We pressed them and said 'does that have to be a police officer?' The answer was 'no.'"
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill visited the unit last summer and has given his backing to the scheme.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The government is very supportive of initiatives to free up more officers to focus on front-line policing – the new Priority Crime Unit at Central Scotland Police is an excellent example of this."
He added: "The Scottish Government has been pleased to support this initiative financially. We provided £300,000 last year and consideration is currently being given to possible future support, which we are discussing with Central Scotland Police."
MOSTLY MINOR CRIMES ON AGENDA
THE Priority Crime Unit is staffed by eight investigative assistants, who are paid just over £20,000.
They carry out a three-week training course, which teaches them legal issues surrounding evidence and investigative techniques.
Most of the crimes involved are theft and other "dishonesty" offences, and vandalism, but a murder and a sexual assault have seen civilians carrying out police tasks.
Police say working on more serious crimes assists in their "personal development".
But the general rule is that crimes of violence will remain the task solely of police to investigate.
The Scottish Government gave £300,000 to set up the pilot and talks are now taking place over extra funding that will allow the scheme to continue. The initiative has been said to be freeing about 1,200 police hours every month.