By Bill Heaney
What’s going to be done about the 30 per cent of police officers in Scotland who are suffering from burn-out and a further 16 per cent who are enduring high levels of stress, Liam McArthur MSP asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood on Thursday.
The First Minister told him: “I appreciate—as, I am sure, we all do—the hard work and dedication of our police officers and police support staff at all times, but especially throughout the pandemic.
“I support the initiatives that are being undertaken by the chief constable [Iain Livingstone] to ensure that officers and staff are physically and mentally healthy.
“That includes, for example, the introduction of wellbeing champions and a wellbeing hub to raise awareness of the support that is available.
“In addition, Police Scotland was one of the first police services in the United Kingdom to implement mental health and suicide intervention training for all officers.
“Officers and staff are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances, and I welcome the fact that Police Scotland provides its workforce with a range of services to help them to look after their mental and physical health.
Liam McArthur – devastating research showed police officers were cracking up.
Liam McArthur, a LibDem from Orkney, replied: “When we highlighted devastating research 18 months ago, ministers told us that they were very satisfied with the mental health support that was available for officers.
“Now, expert researchers have again concluded that many front-line officers are suffering from chronic stress associated with their circumstances at work.
“Police Scotland co-sponsored that long-term research, but I have learned that support was withdrawn because the research programme was keen to understand the impact of Covid on the workforce.
“Police Scotland said that it was too soon and withdrew support. Does the First Minister accept that Scotland’s police officers have been badly let down and that they do not have the mental health support that they obviously need?”
Nicola Sturgeon told him: “The chief constable and the Government have a duty to listen and respond, and we take that duty very seriously. Liam McArthur talks about 18 months ago. That, of course, predates Covid, which has exacerbated the stress, anxiety and trauma of many of our public service workers, including the police and their support staff.
“A range of support services are in place, and I mentioned some of them in my initial answer. It is really important that the chief constable—this is a matter for the chief constable, first and foremost—continues to listen to the experiences of the police service and delivers that support to make sure that, in the very challenging work that they do, our police officers have support to keep themselves mentally and physically healthy.
“That work will continue and I fully support the efforts that the chief constable is undertaking.”
Meanwhile, Tory MSP Jamie Greene (West Scotland) told parliament that just this week, Chief Superintendent Matt Richards said that a marked increase in the use of body-worn cameras by police officers will result in a “spike in guilty pleas” and reduce pressure on our much backlogged criminal courts.
However, he warned that “financial and structural constraints” seem to have prevented the roll-out of the cameras thus far.
Does the First Minister agree with that assessment of the situation? Are there any imminent plans to increase police protection and speed up the justice process by heeding the chief superintendent’s recommendation?”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told him: “We will continue to discuss those matters with the chief constable [Iain Livingstone, pictured right].
“I certainly welcome Police Scotland’s on-going work to consider how new or improved technologies can be harnessed to further strengthen its ability to keep the population safe.
“We will continue to support that, but we will also consider the implications for police officers. It is important that we take the time to discuss and consider all the issues fully.”