GLASGOW’S police force is set for tough times ahead – but the city’s new senior cop says his “firm but compassionate” officers will rise to the challenge.
Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland has now taken the reigns as divisional commander for Greater Glasgow and says the area is in for an “exceptionally challenging 2021”.
But Mark, who follows recently retired Chief Superintendent Hazel Hendren into the role, is confident the force will come out stronger.
Mark said: “I want to see us be that firm but compassionate policing service in Glasgow.
“I think there’s going to be real challenges for us with Brexit and then the European Championships, and then when the city council allows parades again.
“We’re in for an exceptionally challenging 2021.
“But I’m hopeful we’ll continue to bring a great policing service for Glasgow.”
Mark becomes divisional commander at an already difficult time – during a global pandemic that has meant policing in the city has had to adapt rapidly.
Just days into his new role, the Chief Super has had to undertake 14 days of self-isolation due to a family member being a close contact of a coronavirus case.
So he’s leading the city’s policing efforts from his daughter’s bedroom.
He said: “I have stolen her bedroom as she has the best desk and chair in the house, so I have to kick her out in the morning, much to her disgust, and work from there.
“In some ways it’s been very difficult because you want to be visible and you want to be in your new office.
“But it’s just brought home how everyone has had to adjust and change the way that they work and the way that they live through the pandemic.”
Since December last year Mark has been heavily involved in developing Police Scotland’s coronavirus response, from operational guidance to health and safety and implementation of legislation.
This experience will be invaluable as the divisional commander leads Greater Glasgow’s police force through what he says is the major challenge facing officers and the main concern of residents.
He said: “Just now the major challenge is trying to balance the pandemic with normal life, working out what that looks like and trying to get the balance right.
“I don’t think concerns have really changed for residents over time: people are still concerned about people breaking into their houses, concerned about disorder in their local areas, they want to feel safe.
“I think in general terms that still remains the priority. What’s interesting now is balancing those public safety concerns with the pandemic.”
Mark believes there’s a fine line in pandemic policing with the public against officers moving straight to enforcement – but they don’t want police to be “too soft”.
He added: “We now have this situation where neighbours are reporting neighbours for indoor gatherings.
“We’re having to respond and operate in this new environment where we have almost akin to wartime powers in terms of impinging on people’s civil liberties.
“Getting that balance right and trying to maintain the public confidence and the consent of the public moving forward is the biggest challenge we face.”
Mark’s two decade’s of experience – joining the police in 2001 – stand him in good stead for leading Greater Glasgow through that challenge.
He started off stationed at Partick police office before moving into CID and spending eight years as a detective.
From there he moved into crime policy and strategy in delivering major crime investigations in what was then Strathclyde Police.
He worked in Maryhill and the now-closed Pitt Street police office before a promotion to detective inspector then working for the chief constable as his staff officer during the reform period when Police Scotland was created.
The “highlight” of his career so far was his time as area commander of Glasgow city centre following his position as area commander for Glasgow North West.
Mark was then promoted to superintendent and returned to Glasgow to be operations superintendent in events and licensing, overseeing the “challenging” republican and Orange Order parades last year shortly after the Govan riots.
He said: “I’ve managed to amass quite a different range of skills and experience.
“I’m one of the senior public order and fire arms commanders in the force so I carry quite a big specialism behind that as well.”
One of the main requirements of policing the city is overseeing events – and Mark is also skilled in this area, mentioning his role as senior public order commander with responsibility for Turnberry during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Scotland in July 2018.
Mark said: “I remember standing at the golf course at Turnberry and looking round at the hotel and thinking ‘How on earth are we going to protect this place?’
“The size of the operation was massive but when it actually came to the delivery of it I was in our events room commanding it from our big events suite with all the CCTV and toys that we need from Govan.
“So I never got to see Trump after all that – but that was quite an experience as well and quite a big challenge.”
Mark was also involved with the bin lorry crash in the city centre in 2014, an event that has stayed with him.
He said: “I was actually getting ready to take my children to see Santa that afternoon and someone came into my office as I was getting ready to leave and said a bin lorry has just gone in to a hotel and a number of people have been killed in George Square.
“As police officers you tend not to think too much about the wider impact at that point, you move towards where the issue is and deal with it.
“It takes a bit of time then to reflect on how sad the loss to the families was and you then begin to think how the city can recover from that.”
He also speaks of the murder of Eleni Pachou as a case that affected him deeply; he was the family liaison officer and supported Eleni’s father and brothers who came to Glasgow from Greece.
The 25-year-old was found in the kitchen of Di Maggio’s restaurant on Ruthven Lane in the same 24 hours that the body of Moira Jones was found in Queen’s Park.
He added: “I also worked on the Emma Caldwell enquiry, which has still to be resolved of course.
“I worked on a number of major, major enquires all of which involved serious violence against women so learned a lot from them.”
Working in the city centre and helping set up the Safe Zone and Night Zone has also given Mark the skills in working with other agencies to tackle the city’s challenges.
He said: “I think Glasgow has a unique challenge in that there are a lot of people who have complex needs that require police to act in partnership to make sure that people are still kept safe, which is our fundamental purpose.
“The best thing the police can do is to understand what their role is to try and then drive improvement through that partnership element.”
One of the major issues also facing the city is drug use and the push from the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council to take a public health approach to tackling this.
He added: “There are some real, complex challenges there for the police because quite often while public health policy changes, the police are left in a difficult position where the requirement of the police is to uphold the legal framework of the country.
“So there are times when we could use more support from public health partners, quite frankly, particularly around public health policy but that’s something that we’re working hard on.”
Even with multiple challenges to tackle, Mark is keen to get stuck in to his new role – and proud to be working in Glasgow.
He said: “The greatness of the city is its diversity and complexity.
“When you look at how Glasgow has accelerated over the years in terms of the hotels and the fashion industry and the banking industry with Barclays being built, then you look at the level of poverty, I think the challenge is to keep modernising Glasgow in the way the city has been – and keeping moving on.”