Scottish Police 'sent to charity shop for equipment'
Scottish police officers have been sent to charity shops to buy equipment, the Scottish Police Federation has claimed.
General Secretary Calum Steele said this was the "ridiculous yet brutal reality" of the "dire financial straits" Scotland's police force is in.
He also said the public was being "misled" about the reality of policing.
Police Scotland acknowledged "budget challenges" but said officers "did not routinely or regularly" make purchases from charity shops.
The federation, which represents many of Scotland's police officers, had previously warned that the force cannot take any more operational cuts.
In a post published on the SPF website, Mr Steele highlighted two alleged cases, including;
- officers escorting a child in a police car were sent to "scour charity shops" to buy car sun blinds to screen the child from public view
- and dog handlers following trails were told to stop as they approach the end of their shift "lest they incur overtime", with other dog teams sent to pick up from where they had left off.
Mr Steele wrote: "General and criminal inquiries are passed from officer to officer to officer, grossly diminishing the care for victims and increasing the likelihood of mistakes being made, evidence being lost and greater costs and abstractions should the issue subsequently progress to court.
"Rural communities are seeing their police services diminished and access is very much a post code and bank account lottery. Let us not kid on that decisions to send policing responses are firstly judged on need when a budget built on cuts needs to be balanced.
"Cash is king and woe betide anyone who isn't playing their part in making cuts. Theorising on paper that the service will be improved by cutting is a fool's errand and the public is being misled over the policing realities of today. At a time when so much emphasis is being placed on the cost of policing, it's long overdue that we had a real conversation about its value."
Responding for Police Scotland, Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said the force "acknowledges the current financial challenges" and was working to "develop sustainable solutions".
Responding to the specific allegations, she said: "Dog handlers do not automatically stop searching if they are going to occur overtime, they ask for authorisation to stay beyond their tour of duty if the search cannot be completed within rostered hours.
"Officers do not routinely or regularly purchase items from charity shops to support operational requirements. On this occasion an officer bought a sun shade - something we do not carry in stock - to protect the identity of a vulnerable witness, a highly commendable action by our officers."
She added: "The Scottish Police Federation rightly recognise there are budget challenges however, public confidence in policing remains strong and we look forward to working with everyone who has an interest in improving the service we provide to our local communities."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government insisted that police budgets had been protected, noting that it was down to the force to decide the best way to use its budget.
She said: "The Scottish government is committed to protecting the police revenue budget in real terms for the entirety of this parliament, delivering an additional £100m of investment over the next five years, in addition to £55m of reform funding in 2016-17.
"Clearly, it is for SPA and Police Scotland to determine the best possible use of the budget according to national and local priorities."
She also criticised the Westminster government, claiming the Scottish Police Authority "remains the only police authority in the UK unable to recover VAT, which is liable to an annual cost of around £25m".
The Scottish Conservatives said the claims were "deeply worrying", with justice spokesman Douglas Ross calling on the government to look at them "very seriously".
He added: "I am certain that this is something the parliament's justice committee will want to examine.
"Our officers must feel valued for the work they do and have the freedom and equipment to ensure they can investigate crimes effectively. These comments suggest that is not the case and, if accurate, will be having a huge impact on officer morale."