Glasgow’s top cop recalls Clutha and George Square bin lorry …
He was walking down Princes Street as the clock hit midnight and the new organisation that would unite Scotland’s eight regional police forces into a single entity came into existence for the first time.
CS Sutherland said it was a watershed moment for law and order, and although the man who has been Glasgow’s top cop for the last two and a half years admits mistakes have been made, he insists Police Scotland has never been in a better – or more informed – position to keep people safe.
He said: “It was a decade ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been involved in the group that worked on the strategy behind the formation of Police Scotland and I knew it was going to alter how we worked forever, but I was confident it would be a change for the better.
“It has been a quick 10 years, but we’ve made immense progress. Every department, from community policing right through to the Major Investigations Team that deal with the most serious of crimes, now works closer with each other than ever before. Because of that, and stronger partnership working with key agencies like Glasgow City Council, we are more aware of what is going on in our communities and what people expect from us than ever before.
“I would like to think that puts us on a really solid footing to deliver what we need to achieve for the next 10 years.”
The 47-year-old picked out two moments that he said have been both the most difficult and rewarding of the last decade.
He said that the bin lorry crash in 2014, which devastated Glasgow’s George Square and claimed the lives of six people, and an arrest in one of the city’s most notorious cases both remain fresh in his mind.
CS Sutherland explained: “The arrest of a man who was subsequently charged with the alleged murder of Emma Caldwell was a proud moment for me.”
Emma’s lifeless body was discovered in April 2005 in woodland 40 miles from where she was last seen in the centre of Glasgow. Police kept the case open and meticulously worked on it, refusing to give up. Their painstaking efforts eventually saw a man appear in court in February last year charged with her alleged murder.
CS Sutherland added: “Emma’s death haunted Glasgow and I remember working on the case as a young detective and it was one that stayed with me. To make an arrest almost 17 years on from when the investigation was launched proved that Police Scotland as an organisation never gives up. No matter how historic the crime, a determination always remains to try and bring it to a conclusion.
“The police response to the bin lorry crash in George Square also stands out in my mind. It was a huge operation, right in the heart of the city, and something that united Glasgow in grief. It was an awful day for everyone. Our officers on the scene, just a few weeks before Christmas, had to remain professional and composed in the face of such devastation and loss of life.
“I was very proud of Police Scotland’s work on the day and in the weeks that followed but there is a lot that has happened over the last 10 years that I’m very proud of. Policing is a relentless task, but a rewarding pursuit and it is sad that often some of the force’s best achievements come at times of such tragedy.”
The organisation has come under fire for a number of failings over the years and CS Sutherland admits that not everything has gone as he would have hoped.
He added: “We don’t get everything right, and there have been things that could and should have been handled or done better. But I’d like to think that we’ve looked at each specific incident and the broader circumstances around them and learned from them. It is important that we do that to make Police Scotland a more robust and accountable organisation going into the next 10 years.”
CS Sutherland said that the public are right to demand officers and those who lead them continue to utilise every tool at their disposal to make our streets safer and told how shifts in technology are helping the force more than ever before.
He added: “It is important that we keep taking advantage of technological advances, but also that they are used in a proportionate manner. Things now are very different in that regard from when Police Scotland was formed. Now officers are equipped with video and body cameras and Tasers are carried, while advances in forensic procedures have become key to how many crimes are solved.
“We need to remember that criminals have also changed since 2013. Back then cyber crime didn’t really exist and now it is one of our biggest challenges and there is also now a lot of offending that originates from social circumstances such as poverty or issues around vulnerability in relation to people’s mental health and substance addiction. Sadly, crimes of violence will always be with us, but as the budgets of many of our partner organisations shrink, we will need investment to allow us to meet the additional challenges and pressures that will bring upon us.”
CS Sutherland joined the force in February 2001 and his first post was as a beat officer patrolling the West End of Glasgow. He then moved to the criminal investigation department, working in CID for eight years before being headhunted to develop crime policy and strategy. He has subsequently worked across a range of strategic roles within Police Scotland before becoming divisional commander for Greater Glasgow.
As he looked towards the future for the organisation, which is the second largest in the UK, he said: “Police Scotland as an entity has returned £200m to the public purse, but it is about so much more than that. It is about our goal of making people feel safe, no matter where they live or what their background is. I’m incredibly proud right now to serve Glasgow and its people and I want to continue to help make this city all it can be – and I’m confident the foundations that Police Scotland have put in place over the last decade puts me and my officers in the perfect place to do that.”