THE scale of the task facing the Capital’s new community police squad has been laid bare after figures revealed the number of offending youths soared by more than a third in 12 months.
Figures from Police Scotland and the city council show 341 young people under the age of 17 committed offences in the year to July – up from 253 during the same period last year.
Police and city bosses acknowledged there had been a “significant increase” but stressed the vast majority of young people were law-abiding.
Publication of the statistics comes after a team of 41 community police officers – including seven for the city centre – was created as part of a £2.6 million council grant.
Among their duties are attending local community council meetings, school visits and liaising with businesses.
They are also expected to walk the streets and provide reassurance patrols, which helps the community get to know them.
The officers also assist with incidents where required.
Residents today said they were “not at all surprised” by the rising youth crime trend, warning that community officers alone would not be enough to drive the problem down.
Leith resident Pip Wallen-Priestley, 60, said: “What I’ve been noticing round here is vandalism, which does not have an impact on anyone personally, but has an effect on the community as a whole.
“Not so long ago there was a spate of kids going around and kicking side mirrors off cars.”
Mr Wallen-Priestley said much of the problem was due to irresponsible parenting. He called for new regulations forcing families to pay for damage caused by their children.
“I’m not at all surprised – there’s no respect for property or people,” he added.
“It’s irresponsible parents who don’t look after their kids and have no idea what their kids are doing. Parents need to be held accountable. They should be dealth with by the law.”
Police and city bosses admitted that there had been a rise in youth offending but they insisted that initiatives such as Stronger North – established specifically to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in north Edinburgh – were improving matters.
The £2.6m funding for 2015-16 has also paid for 14 officers for the Divisional Violence Reduction Unit (DVRU), headed up by Inspector Stevie Sutherland.
The team is the only flexible uniformed unit in the city and it can be deployed to focus on areas where there have been issues with violence, such as pubs, or city centre trouble spots.
Councillor Cammy Day, community safety leader, said: “Tackling crime and creating safer communities is a priority for the council and we work closely with Police Scotland, partner agencies, community groups and the public on specific initiatives.
“The council provides funding for 41 community police officers, based in local areas, to focus on tackling the issues affecting those communities.
“Stronger North is working well at reducing crime and antisocial behaviour and is a prime example of positive, focused partnership working.”
In their official monthly returns report for July, community policing leaders released a statement saying: “While there’s been an increase in offending, this is a small percentage of young people.”