I read the other day a comment from a person I consider to be a very bitter and out-of-date individual that the training given to police wildlife crime officers in Scotland seems to have been pretty much a waste of time. This individual regularly claims that the police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the courts are corrupt. There was a clear agenda behind this malicious accusation to denigrate the police and to promote the SSPCA as a charity who should take over the investigation of wildlife crime.
I was very much involved in the training of police wildlife crime officers (wildlife liaison officers at that time) in the early 1990s. I helped to run courses that covered all types of wildlife crime investigation, along with other experienced police presenters and with assistance from some other non-government organisations, particularly the RSPB. These courses were excellent in their time and even improved over the next decade as we became more experienced and professional at investigating a wide range of crimes relating to animals, birds, plants and other wildlife.
Around 2007 I handed over the reins of organising the training to others and when I was invited back a couple of years later to give a presentation I couldn’t believe how much the training had developed and how much better it was than when I organised it. The course had been revamped, which shows the value of looking at a problem with a fresh eye. Far from being annoyed at these changes I was overjoyed with the new regime’s enterprising work and gave them public credit at the end of the course.
The main difference in the training was that it was clear that the police now had sufficient experience in all types of wildlife crime investigation to be able to carry out most of the presentations themselves, with the remainder being undertaken by government organisations such as COPFS, Scottish Government, National Wildlife Crime Unit, Scottish Natural Heritage and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture. The course delegates comprised of police officers and procurators fiscal, which created even more value.
Though there was a fundamental shift from ngos to government organisations, I am not saying for a moment that the police no longer need assistance from ngos. Indeed there are many investigations that would fail in court without assistance from certain ngos, whether that is in relation to species, ecology, welfare or identification. What I am saying is that, though ngo’s assistance with training was of huge value almost two decades ago, the police are now almost self-sufficient in wildlife crime training – no different from many other specialisms in policing.
Whereas ‘my’ courses had been fairly basic, since many of the wildlife crime officers were new in the role, now the course was much more advanced and concentrated on new legislation and problematic issues. Examples over the past few years are:
- New snaring legislation
- Snaring of mountain hares
- Non-native species
- Open general licences
- Vicarious liability
- Use of video and surveillance
- Veterinary pathology
- The effects of the ‘Cadder’ ruling
- Forensic techniques
- Spring Traps (Approval) (Scotland) Order 2011
- Planning an operation, including good use of the Scottish Intelligence Database
- Financial recovery
This specialist training, together with the experience in policing an already wide range of crimes and offences, knowledge of a wide range of police powers, interviewing skills, knowledge of detention and arrest powers and general skills at managing difficult situations over – in most cases – many years, makes police wildlife crime officers one of the best trained teams within Police Scotland. This team’s capability is further enhanced by the close working relationship with specialist wildlife prosecutors and of course a back-up of 17,000 other police officers plus specialist support staff.
There is no more highly-trained and professional unit to investigate wildlife crime and the offensive remark that caused me to write this blog has been assuaged slightly by putting my thoughts into print.