Building links with local community

THE important role of community policing in Forfar and Kirriemuir, and its relevance in the new national police force which will come into being next year, was emphasised last week by Burgh Inspector Alistair Robertson of Tayside Police.

Reflecting on his first six months in his role at Eastern Division headquarters in Forfar, he told the Dispatch and Herald of the important links his community liaison officers - Constables Pam Colvin, Ally Smith and Alan Bell - have established in the towns, and his persistence that his “bobbies on the beat” get out to meet members of the public and business communities.

These links are going a long way to building up community intelligence - and ultimately tracking down those responsible for a variety of crimes in the area.

However, Inspector Robertson - who had 25 years experience in the force before taking up his Burgh Inspector’s role last September - is quick to stress Angus is recognised as one of the safest areas in Scotland in which to live. As well as being the burgh inspector, he is one of four duty inspectors covering an area from Monifieth to Montrose and Arbroath to Kirriemuir, and everything in between.

When he took up his role he stressed the need to get “bobbies out of their cars and onto the streets” offering the public “visible policing” - and he stands by his words.

He said: “One of the things I really do hammer home is visibility; it’s a huge part of what we try to do. We do quite a lot of analysis of crime areas. We patrol areas we know are going to have issues we need to deal with; that’s what the cops are about. I am trying to show that, during the course of a working day, we can build in an opportunity to park the car, walk and speak to people.”

Although there are bureaucratic constraints on time, Inspector Robertson explained the leadership in place now wants to listen to what the community has to say.

Reflecting on issues which have hit the headlines over the last six months, he asked parents to accept responsibility for their children now that the lighter nights are upon us. They should be checking where their children are, who they are with, what they are doing and what time they are due back.

Youth issues came to a head last November with a brawl outside the police station involving youths from Forfar and Kirriemuir. Whilst it was a major issue at the time - with one young person being reported to the Children’s Reporter for a Breach of the Peace and three taken home under the influence of alcohol - he was quick to keep youth issues in perspective.

“You are always going to get groups of young people hanging about - it is almost a rite of passage - they go about and meet their friends. But we try to engage with them.”

He spoke of the local “diversionary groups” available for youngsters, including the Friday Night Project and Ian Pert’s highly successful Hedz-Up project.

He continued: “Ian is providing a lot of the kids with skills and outcomes. They are learning and developing and can take these to an employer. It’s brilliant. That’s the great thing about these communities. I am really enthused about the amount of work that goes on - they should really be flying the flag.”

He quoted statistics that, year on year, month on month in Angus, the police are reducing crime.

He continued: “But our public satisfaction surveys are showing there are still a lot of people who are fearful of crime. We need to get the message across Angus is one of the safest places in Scotland to live.”

Turning to one of the major issues which has been reported in the Dispatch and Herald recently - that of irresponsible dog owners failing to pick up after their pets - Inspector Robertson explained that, if officers see that happening, they will deal with it.

However, he again called on the public to report those responsible as the chances of a police officer or community wardens catching someone’s dog doing it are limited.

He urged the public to contact Angus Council’s Community Safety Team to report the dogs involved, and spoke of the need to educate dog owners regarding the responsible ownership of their dogs.

“It’s a matter of maintaining standards. If you want something done about it - the Community Safety Team and community wardens are there.”

Looking ahead to the introduction of a Police Service of Scotland from April 1 next year, Inspector Robertson pledged community policing would be one thing which would not change.

“The people of Kirriemuir and Forfar will not see any difference to the community policing - that is the crown jewels of policing. The back room functions, administration, all the specialist policing, I.T. will look after itself. When we move from Tayside Police to the Police Service of Scotland, the one thing that will be absolutely guaranteed is that community policing will be strengthened - because it works.”