When new recruit Robbie McGregor sat round the muster table at the old Falkirk Police Station in West Bridge Street preparing to go out on his first town centre patrol, little did he imagine that three decades later he would be in the hot seat.
For almost four years he has been Falkirk’s Area Commander, responsible for keeping communities and business safe and clamping down on crime.
However, as he prepared to vacate the top role and head off for retirement, he took time to reflect on a career that saw him hold every rank in the town, as well as working in offices throughout the force area.
He leaves at a time when the Scottish police service is in unchartered waters as it moves towards a national force. But Superintendent McGregor believes that the man and woman in the street will notice little change.
“Local policing will still be local policing,” he said. “As we move through transition, the people of Falkirk will still receive the professional service they have always had.”
Born and brought up in Crieff, the young Robbie left school and served his time as an electrician. He also found time to be a retained firefighter, but when he decided to join the police he discovered that his local Tayside force was not recruiting so applied to Central Scotland Police instead.
He said: “In 1981 I came here as a constable, eventually serving in every rank – detective sergeant, detective inspector in charge of CID, uniform chief inspector before coming back in December 2005 as the sub area commander, then two years later being appointed the area commander.
“I’d always wanted to join CID as I had an interest in crime investigation work. After I’d been in the job about four years, I got the chance to join the department in Stirling. I was in a posting at Callander at the time and my sergeant, Harry Lawrie, encouraged me to go for it.”
Sgt Lawrie was killed in a helicopter crash in 1987 while assisting in a search and rescue operation on Ben More. DC McGregor was on duty in CID the night he died and, in a twist of fate, Harry’s son, Superintendent Gary Lawrie will be taking over the role of Falkirk’s Area Commander later this month.
During his career, he has been involved with many high profile cases. While a detective sergeant with Special Branch, he worked on the Sauchie terrorist inquiry as well as a UVF gun plot which was linked to the Tam Bain pub in Laurieston.
He also spent three years at the Scottish Police College in Tulliallan as depute head of detective training.
Robbie (54) said this was one of the most enjoyable periods of his career with other highlights the many major inquiries he has been involved in over the years.
He added: “Working with Falkirk Football Club during their SPL period was excellent when there was a reputation across Scottish football that our match day operation was one of the best and I’m proud we played our part.
“People can be quick to criticise the police, but I’m proud of the officers that I work with on a day-in-day-out basis. There are occasionally complaints, but I receive far more letters of praise about them.”
Crime in the Falkirk area is at its lowest for years and Robbie said that is due to a lot of hard work at all levels from the force and its partners.
“The government is quick to take praise for our performance and reduction in crime, but it’s the people in the frontline who make that happen,” he said candidly. “We do well catching the criminals, but often it is down to the public coming forward with vital information. I’ve repeatedly gone on the record to thank them and encourage them to keep telling us what is happening on their doorstep.”
Married to Debbie, a sergeant with the force, the couple live in Larbert and Robbie is looking forward to filling his retirement with golf and foreign travel, as well as spending more time with his two sons and young grandson.
He said: “As a force, Central Scotland Police has a great reputation locally and across the country. The young officers we have carry out their roles with a considerable degree of pride and a desire to make things better. In the 30 years that I have worked in the Falkirk area, we have faced difficult inquiries and major incidents, but I’m confident that we have always responded well to uphold that reputation.
“I also believe that the officers who join the Scottish police service today, do so for the same reasons I came into the job – to make things better and safer.”