As 2000 approached, the police service made further moves towards equality and the improvement of working conditions. Height restrictions of personnel were abolished and the terms of the Health and Safety Act enforced. This necessitated a complete rethink on officer safety that involved making Risk Assessments for all police duties, and ensuring counter-measures were in place to provide adequate protection.
The truncheon gave way to side-handled batons, rigid handcuffs and C.S. canisters – all carried openly on an equipment belt. The uniform also changed; the latest item of protection, the stab-resistant vest, was a further visual transformation. Where, previously the truncheon was concealed, presenting a favourable image to the public, officers in 2000 patrolled as if kitted-up for combat. Apart from the hat and distinctive diced-band, the modern police officer bore little resemblance (in appearance or gender) to officers of the nineteenth century.
Nevertheless, early Police Acts (Section 12, The Police (Scotland) Act 1857) defined the duty of a constable as
… to guard, patrol and watch so as –
- to prevent the commission of offences
- to preserve order, and
- to protect life and property;
Where an offence has been committed … take all lawful measures, and make such reports … for the purpose of bringing the offender … to justice
and, almost two hundred years later, this job-description still applied (Section 17,The Police (Scotland) Act 1967).
Information technology, computerisation, specialist departments, and civilian support staff were all features of modern policing that were never envisaged in the original concept. While the service still strove to provide policing that met the need and expectations of the community, the autonomy and independence of the rural policeman, once a Jack-of-all police trades, had been lost in the changing world of centralisation and specialist departments.
Policing in East Lothian in the 21st Century
Crime makes news and the public are constantly reminded that crime is ever-present in some form or another. It is unlikely that society will ever be crime free and therefore there will always be a need for some form of policing. But what form will policing take in the future?
There are numerous proposals currently being explored, some involve new ideas and others are simply re-vamped, variations of earlier themes. The future possibilities could see a national police force for Scotland; or a multi-tier force where police officers attend to more serious crime, while Civic Wardens patrol towns and villages enforcing byelaws. There is also the impact of greater involvement with Europe and it may be necessary for British police officers to be armed like their European counterparts.
There are two certainties in future policing; one is the continued need for some form of police presence, and the other is that there will be continual change.
Whatever the future holds, anticipation always involves a degree of apprehension; and it is comforting to reflect on the past where events, now safely behind us, are cosily consigned to nostalgia. The image of the village policeman, maintaining order in a more peaceful era, is a reassurance of law enforcement that was appropriate to those times.
A particular memory of one of those old policemen, hat on the back of his head, tunic unbuttoned, digging a shaw of potatoes from the police station garden, to have with his dinner, while all was well in the village – such tranquillity. But he never got his dinner. I arrived, with bad timing, to take him down to the main police station where he was required to assist with other duties. I suppose that was the demise of village policing, and the beginning of centralisation; and I was part of that.