Monday, September 17, 2018

Responding to Change

I read Sybil's blog about the changes to the bail system and the knock-on effect on crime writers with great interest since a few years ago there was a major change to the police force in Scotland that horrified writers of police procedurals up and down the country.

Until then, Scotland, like England, had been divided into constabularies, geographical areas each organised  under their own chief constable with a lot of autonomy.  As writers we tended to have our own pet stamping grounds, if not real then at least plausible - my DI Fleming belonged to the Galloway Constabulary instead of the genuine Dumfries and Galloway one.  It was all very straightforward.

A lot of us felt positively dispossessed when the Scottish government decided on a radical change.  The constabularies were all swept away and it became a unitary force, Police Scotland, with only one Chief Constable instead of a dozen.  This in itself was a loss to writers; the Chief Constable could appear in the books with whatever character you wanted him or her to have.  Now there was only one, it was harder to create, say, a villainous CC without seeming to libel the present incumbent.

Officers now didn't just sign on to the nearest force; they could be sent at any time to any part of the country and a lot of solid local knowledge was lost. The organisation wasn't set in place before the change took place with the result that the new force has limped along from one problem to another, pilloried by the press and losing one Chief Constable recently to allegations of bullying.

I could, of course, have just gone on in my make-believe world pretending it hadn't happened. However realistic we might try to make it sound I don't think we kid ourselves that we are actually giving a representation of genuine police work, which would be monumentally boring.   But it's important to give a nod to reality when the situation changes so radically and we all had, reluctantly, to move our feet.

Apparently it isn't true that the Chinese character for 'crisis' combines the two notions of danger and opportunity, but while I was fretting over the problem it suggested the scenario for a new series, featuring DI Kelso Strang. 

The motive behind the change was to save money.  In fact, as far as one can tell, the crisis in police funding is now worse than it ever was and thinking about that led me to the idea of the Serious Rural Crime Squad - a task force that could be sent immediately if there was major crime in one of the rural districts where very little crime of any sort takes place, saving money by running down the local CID. 

I rather fell in love with the idea.  So far, I haven't been approached by the authorities for advice about how it should be set up, but you never know.  For the purposes of fiction it has a lot of attraction - a new background for every novel, instead of having them all based in the same area.  For Human Face, that was Skye; the new book which comes out in November, is set in Caithness, the northernmost coast of Scotland.

Oddly enough, under the latest Chief Constable, there seems to be a move  back to more local policing once again, with District Commanders taking on something like the role of the previous Chief Constables.    Maybe, with a few minor tweaks, we can repossess our own favourite spots after all and DI Fleming can return to running investigations in something very like the Galloway of old.


Sybil Johnson said...

Very interesting. That is quite a change in policing! The bail change in California seems miniscule in comparison.

jackie baldwin said...

I loved the way that you tackled Police Scotland in Human Face, Aline. My third book is going to be set in 2015 and I am now having to get to grips with it too.