Edinburgh police over-stretched as crime rates soar

Police are being diverted from their duties. Picture: Julie Bull
Police are being diverted from their duties. Picture: Julie Bull
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UP to 55 officers a day are diverted from frontline police duties in the Capital to plug gaps in resources, according to a new report.

The extent of the Capital’s stretched resources is laid bare in a new report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), which revealed the city faces the country’s highest crime rates and lowest detection rates.

Officers covered more than 1000 events, with many relating to the demands of policing a capital city – from demonstrations at the Scottish Parliament to the summer and winter festivals. They were also drafted in to work at police station front counters, custody suites and Edinburgh Airport.

The report also highlighted that officers are dealing with an increasing number of vulnerable people who would be better served by other agencies, such as social workers.

The findings were branded “concerning and demoralising” by opposition politicians, while HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said: “There is now a need for Police Scotland to review the balance between local policing and specialist resources.”

Councillor Cameron Rose, a former police officer, said Edinburgh was being “short-changed” by a national force failing to understand its needs.

He said the number of events held in the city, its particular demographic and ongoing issues with crimes such as break-ins, had not been fully taken into account, adding that the HMICS report was “very concerning”.

“Police Scotland is not allocating sufficient resources in Edinburgh and that’s reflected in the outcomes,” he said.

Divisional commander Chief Superintendent Mark Williams welcomed the report. He said: “The demand for resources in Edinburgh is unique but we will always seek to respond as effectively as we can.”

The document estimates that the equivalent of 55 officers every day were drawn from local policing teams to provide temporary cover elsewhere. It said that the 1153 events held in the city last year required a total of 84,552 police hours.

The report said: “There is a need to review the current resourcing arrangements for Edinburgh division, taking into account the balance of public demand, protective demand and the significant pre-planned demand arising from the city’s capital status.”

Ch Supt Williams said the average figure of 55 officers a day related to officers who had been drafted in to assist from other divisions, as well as local staff. “We use specialist officers from all over Scotland,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that at times we have called upon far more resources than we could ever have been able to call upon under legacy arrangements. We police events far more efficiently than we used to. We’re not using more police officers, we’re using less.”

In 2014-15, there was a

13.1 per cent hike in calls reporting vulnerability – such as suicidal thoughts and missing people – amounting to nearly 38 calls every day.

“Officers are regularly dealing with vulnerable individuals whose needs would be better addressed through timely interventions by other agencies, and which would arguably result in better outcomes,” the report said.

Officers are also regularly drafted in to work in courts to maintain public order and carry out administrative duties.

HMICS recommended that Police Scotland ensures an efficient and effective deployment of officers at the courts.

An unannounced visit to the 40-cell custody suite at St Leonard’s police station found that the system was well operated and that detainees were treated fairly – but that the capacity would have to be increased in the long term.

Ch Supt Williams said that “abstractions” from local policing – including officers being moved to work in custody – were managed on a daily basis.

He said: “Without custody I couldn’t arrest people. We’re keen that we make custody as efficient as possible.”

The report revealed that the number of recorded crimes per 10,000 of population was 738.2, compared with the national average of 481.2. This is coupled with the fact that officers solved 35.4 per cent of all crimes in 2014-15, while counterparts elsewhere detected half of all crimes.

Ch Supt Williams insisted that the figures reflected the city’s “unique” make-up and the vast increase in visitors during major events such as the Fringe and Hogmanay. “Crime per head does not recognise tourism,” he said.

He pointed to a drop in violent crime of more than 18 per cent against the five-year average, with robberies down almost 30 per cent.

He said: “The number of housebreakings has halved and the detection rate has doubled [in the last six months]. Car crime is down significantly, with total motor vehicle crime down 24 per cent.”

He said he was proud of what his officers were achieving, despite “huge challenges” including budget constraints.

“As the report highlights, we are building strong partnerships focused on collaboration and early intervention and examples such as Stronger North, the Safezone Bus, the Violent Offender Watch and our new dedicated ward officers show that we are genuinely committed to preventing crime,” he added.

Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said the report shed light on issues which needed to be addressed.

He said: “HMICS is clearly saying that the balance in Edinburgh is wrong. We have known that for a long time because we have got a spike in housebreaking, and a reduction or a perceived reduction in community policing.

“The Scottish Government is burying its head in the sand by saying they have got 1000 more officers, when they are backfilling for the civilian staff which have been lost.”

A spokeswoman for the

Scottish Government defended Police Scotland and its record.

She said: “With crime at a 41-year low, 1000 extra officers and enhanced access to specialist resources, the fundamentals of policing are sound, and this government is protecting vital frontline services in the face of sweeping Westminster cuts. This is in stark contrast to England and Wales which has seen a decrease of over 15,300 officers since 2007.”

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said the force would take the recommendations on board. She said: “The changing nature of public demand and the ever-changing trends in crime means we are constantly assessing the management and deployment of officers at local, regional and national level to deliver the most effective policing.

“The officers and staff in City of Edinburgh division and those who are often deployed to support our activity in the Capital do a tremendous job and I want to thank them.”

A Scottish Police Authority spokesman said: “This inspection highlights the unique challenges that exist in policing a diverse city centre and acknowledges that policing in Edinburgh is doing good work.”

VULNERABLE MAN JUMPED FROM NORTH BRIDGE

The increasing demand on police to provide support for vulnerable people is illustrated by an incident in August last year.

When a man told his relatives he was suffering from suicidal thoughts, they contacted police.

Concerned for his safety, officers forced entry into the man’s home after he refused to let them in.

He was taken to a psychiatric clinic but doctors ruled he was fit to be detained. The man was kept in cells, to appear at court on the Monday.

The procurator fiscal said the man had not committed a crime and he was released without appearing in the dock.

Thirty minutes later, he jumped from North Bridge on to the roof of Waverley station, breaking both legs.

The Police Investigations and Review Committee ruled that Police Scotland could not reasonably have prevented him jumping.