IN the hit US crime drama The Wire, police commanders are grilled about crime figures in tense meetings with their bosses.
One scene shows a snarling police commissioner ordering them to fiddle felony and murder statistics — or face being ousted from their jobs.
The scrutiny of such figures is no less fierce in Scotland, where the SNP’s claim of crime falling to a record low has become an all too familiar mantra.
But last week statistics were published which would have had Baltimore’s top bobbies in The Wire mopping sweat from their brows.
Murder, rape, serious assaults and robberies have risen while detections have fallen, with a remarkable 40 per cent of rapes unsolved.
Unlike their Baltimore counterparts, members of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) — the very definition of a toothless watchdog — seemed remarkably relaxed about escalating crime and fewer culprits being brought to justice when they met last week.
And yesterday part of the reason for that complacency — mirrored at the highest levels of government — became clearer with the publication of the Policing 2026 report.
Its task, completed with the help of Deloitte — a firm of consultants which banked nearly £700,000 in fees — was to look ahead to the next decade and predict how crime and therefore policing will change.
Some of the predictions had a distinctly dystopian feel — for example that ‘automated chat-bots’ would replace ‘human interaction’ — and that climate change would spark more flooding (as if there were no scientific debate on the matter).
But the key ‘narrative’, to use the buzzword common in police and political circles, was simply that we don’t need as many officers as we currently have because there isn’t as much crime as there used to be (or the money to pay for them).
Also crime, we are assured, is changing: sure, there are still muggers and thugs, murderers and rapists, but a lot of crime is moving online.
Except that there is, inconveniently, the niggling problem of the worst kinds of old-fashioned offending getting worse, including a rise of around a quarter in serious assaults in the last year (implausibly written off by the SPA as statistically insignificant).
Could it be that the SPA is so intensely relaxed about these troubling indications of a rise in violent crime because it doesn’t fit the ‘narrative’ — that we can cut 400 officers because overall crime is falling?
The cyber-crime specialists being drafted in will doubtless perform a vital function — but it is hard to see how they can counter the growing surge in violent and sexual offences.
When the Mail first revealed plans for these cuts last year, there was an indignant response from the SNP, which insisted its commitment to 1,000 extra officers remained intact — a pledge that is now dead in the water.
More violence and rape is not the ideal context for the exercise in futurology published by Police Scotland yesterday, in a corporate glossy brochure.
In one example, a shopping centre’s security guard is seen uploading CCTV images of suspected shoplifters to a police app, allowing officers to use facial recognition software to try and identify the culprit.
But Chief Constable Phil Gormley — who said the police service had become too ‘telephony-dependent’ — is also keen for the public to play detective by emailing in photographs or video footage of crimes to police.
Foot patrols could then be despatched and the images kept on file for future court proceedings.
Harnessing smartphone technology is certainly an idea worth exploring, but this effectively outsources investigative functions that for 200 years have lain with Scottish police to the public — who are not trained in crime-fighting.
There is a risk of the wrong individual being filmed or photographed, and more worryingly the well-intentioned eyewitness may find themselves targeted by the mugger or thug they are recording, should they happen to be spotted.
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, rightly warns that these moves lay the foundations for a kind of ‘volunteer army’.
The track record of policing when it comes to technological change is also far from reassuring — last summer the i6 supercomputer project spectacularly collapsed, and Mr Gormley admitted yesterday that cheaper, ‘off the shelf’ IT systems are likely to be favoured as a replacement.
Yet so much of the 2026 strategy rests squarely on the success of the hi-tech revolution the report envisages.
Officers will also be stationed in ‘civic hubs’ (police stations have become rather passé by 2026) where they will pick up their uniforms equipped with body-worn video cameras.
There is clear enthusiasm for bodycams within policing, and indeed on the part of court authorities, which have already produced a separate report calling for courts to use more digital evidence.
Until now, there have been question marks over how the roll-out of bodycams could be paid for given severe budgetary constraints.
But we are assured that the reduction in officer numbers and ‘smarter’ working will free up the cash required.
The 2026 document assumes the widespread introduction of bodycams, though Andrew Flanagan, the SPA chairman who describes the police service as a ‘people-driven business’, assures us there will be a public consultation.
Mr Gormley’s fondness for wearable ‘tech’ makes him more akin to Robocop than Dixon of Dock Green.
But the track record of Police Scotland on the protection of the basic principle of policing by consent is troubling: remember the debacle over armed policing, when the go-ahead was given for firearms officers to carry holstered handguns on routine call-outs?
Police officers will also be prised away from desks where too many have been languishing in administrative roles — probably around 300.
This is despite years of official denials of officers ‘backfilling’ such roles — largely because the civilians who used to do them had been axed in previous cost-cutting drives.
Mr Gormley also stressed that beat policing will not disappear, and in fact a smarter, leaner way of working will help officers reconnect with local communities.
The 2026 review, in essence, promises a panacea: a solution to a forecast £200 million deficit, a more effective form of crime-fighting, greater public reassurance…
The loss of the totemic pledge to protect police manpower may well prove damaging for the SNP in the run-up to the 2021 Holyrood election.
But the hope is that by relentlessly promoting the ‘narrative’ that crime is morphing and that police officers are no longer as indispensable as they once were, the public will somehow buy it.
Of course, Police Scotland is a political experiment engineered by the Nationalists in response to cuts which they claim were foisted on them by the austerity-obsessed UK Government.
In reality, the SNP had a choice to make about where the axe would fall, and selected policing — no amount of diversionary tactics should persuade us otherwise.
Mr Gormley wryly observed yesterday that ‘necessity is the mother of innovation’, and indeed this philosophy was the launch-pad for the blundering, disaster-prone behemoth Police Scotland has become.
The 2026 review in fact contains the real reason for the re-design of Police Scotland, admitting that ‘without transformation and investment, it is projected that our revenue budget will face an operating deficit of £60 million in 2017–18’.
We should pay heed to Mr Gormley (despite all of the corporate gobbledegook at yesterday’s launch) and his warning that the police must adapt to the changing nature of crime, while technological reform is clearly long overdue.
But it will take more than a glossy brochure to dispel the suspicion that our oldest and most important public service is paying a heavy price for the SNP’s mismanagement of the justice system.