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Police chiefs dismiss audit comments

SENIOR police officers yesterday (Wednesday) challenged comments in an audit report that said the force in Shetland was not making enough use of specialised investigation teams from the Scottish mainland to combat the isles’ massive drug abuse problem.

The best value audit and inspection report into the Constabulary and Northern Joint Police Board, published by Audit Scotland on Wednesday, said it had “found no evidence” that the drug problem was tackled by drawing in specialised staff.

Shetland area officer David Bushell said he had a different view and was “quite clear” that his officers’ recent success in fighting drug crime was due to the co-operation with teams from across Northern Constabulary as well as other police forces.

His comments were echoed by chief constable Ian Latimer who said that Northern Constabulary regularly deployed resources throughout the force and had been “very successful in interrupting drug related activity across our force area”.

Chief inspector Bushell said: “I have a different view on this and I am quite clear about that as is the chief constable.

“We have had some very successful operations during the six to seven months I have been in Shetland.

“Yes, there is a drugs issue in Shetland. We make regular use of teams from throughout the force including headquarters. We also exchange information and work successfully with other forces.

“We also work closely with other agencies and the public here in Shetland, and the success we had is the result of all that.”

The Audit Scotland report said that moving specialised teams within policing areas was routinely done in other police forces to address “policing challenges”.

Movement of officers based on identified operational need is relatively common in mainland areas yet during the inspection we found movement of officers to the island areas of the force occurred less frequently.

“Despite a widespread recognition that drug abuse presents a major problem in Shetland, we found no evidence of it being addressed through the division-wide tasking process, for example by deployment of the divisional proactive team to the islands,” auditors said.

In the report Northern Constabulary was commended for its high crime detection rate in an area where the crime rate is traditionally lower than in other Scottish police forces.

The best value audit also highlighted the force’s system of sound financial control and its record of achieving efficiency savings, including the recent restructuring which saved £1.6 million and resulted in an increase of the number of police officers from 700 to 800.

Audit Scotland suggested some areas for future improvement, such as performance monitoring and information sharing.

Chief Constable Ian Latimer said the audit report was “very positive” and showed that the force was providing best value.

“Forward planning and restructuring has resulted in a significant shift in resources into front-line policing, with the capacity to deploy specialist resources across area commands on demand and concentrate police resources at core times.

“Our ability to move substantial resources to more remote areas was demonstrated in 2009, when we speedily deployed a full murder investigation team to the remote island of Sanday where they successfully detected and reported this serious crime.”

The full report can be found on Audit Scotland’s website at www.audit-scotland.gov.uk

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