Tories want to bring in locally set targets to increase the time police officers spend on patrol in an attempt to boost a visible presence on the street.
The policy will feature in Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross’s election manifesto, we can reveal.
The idea was criticised by the SNP, who accused him of interfering in frontline policing.
But Mr Ross believes it is time to change the power structure in Scotland’s single national service by introducing a Local Policing Act at Holyrood.
A Scottish Government crime survey last year suggested 38% of people were “aware” their area was regularly patrolled – down from 56% around the time the national force was created.
Mr Ross, MP for Moray, said: “What I’m proposing in this dedicated Act is, we would be able to require Police Scotland to set local targets for the number of hours police spend patrolling, and obviously the knock-on effect that then has to reduce levels of crime and to have a visible presence in communities that’s been lost in recent years.”
Police Scotland was formed in 2013 by combining eight regions in a move the SNP Government hoped would save money and allow greater operational flexibility across the country.
We were promised a lot more local accountability.”
Mr Ross, who previously sat on the old regional joint police board and is married to a police officer, claimed there used to be more dedicated scrutiny in local areas.
“I think we were promised a lot more local accountability and it’s very clear from the research that’s been done it’s – at best – patchy across the country,” he said.
The SNP lifted the number of officers in the police service after coming to power.
Mr Ross highlighted official figures showing non-sexual violent crime has risen over the past five years. The Scottish Government attributed the recent spike to new domestic abuse legislation.
Over a longer term, crime has fallen significantly since the 1990s.
The economy and the pandemic
The Scottish Conservative leader will outline more of his plan to party supporters in a conference speech on Monday.
Asked about funding the plans, Mr Ross said more resources would be allocated but did not identify a specific source.
He said: “We’ve already looked at the difference between what Police Scotland asked for in terms of their capital budget and what they actually received in what was passed this week.
“We know the gap that exists and we’ve been clear our plans to stimulate the economy will see Scotland benefiting from an economy that’s thriving again as we come out of the pandemic.”
‘SNP has massively boosted numbers’
SNP MSP Rona Mackay slated the proposal for local targets and said: “The SNP has massively boosted officer numbers in Scotland while the Tories have slashed numbers in England.
“If the SNP had made this suggestion Douglas Ross would be screaming from the rooftops about political interference in the operation of Scotland’s police force.
“Boris Johnson’s Scottish puppet would be best advised to keep his thoughts to himself and let the experts at Police Scotland get on with the complex job of keeping Scotland safe.”
Mr Ross said the “vast majority of officers” he speaks to want more support on the beat.
“The fact many areas are so scarcely crewed, in terms of the numbers of officers that are available to respond to calls at a given time, is a serious concern for officers and their trade union so it’s something I think will be welcome,” he said.
“This isn’t a diktat coming from the Scottish Conservatives to say X number will go here, it is introducing into law an obligation on Police Scotland to engage with the local communities.”
‘High levels of public confidence’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Despite the continued challenges of policing in such extraordinary times, Police Scotland has maintained high levels of public confidence across communities.
“The service works closely with local partners through local divisional commanders and their teams, while local councils are engaged in the development of local police plans – presented to local authorities for their approval.
“Police Scotland also works closely with local authorities as statutory partners in community planning and at a national level with Cosla’s Police Scrutiny Conveners Forum. Cosla is represented on the SPA’s Policing Performance Committee.
“While the detailed balance of officers and other police staff is an operational matter for the Chief Constable, Scotland has significantly more officers than were in place in early 2007, and they remain favourable in comparison with England and Wales per head of population.”