City's top cop pledges crackdown on drugs and antisocial crime

Edinburgh's new top cop has vowed to crack down on drug pushers and anti-social crime and wants the community to rally round his officers to help make the streets safe.

Monday, 25th June 2018, 11:25 am
Updated Monday, 25th June 2018, 11:28 am
Chief Super Gareth Blair at St Leonard's Police Station. Picture: Greg Macvean

Having grown up in Portobello and lived in the city for just under 40 years, new Edinburgh divisional commander – chief superintendent Gareth Blair – has said he wants to take everything he’s learned since joining the force 28 years ago to deliver the best possible service for the residents of the Capital.

With total crime rising 12 per cent in the last performance year, Mr Blair is under no illusion that he and his officers have plenty of work to do to turn those figures around.

Key areas such as street violence, domestic house break ins, sexual offences and motorbike crime have been highlighted as a priority to tackle in the Capital and he believes with the help of additional police units, third party agencies and the public a more positive trend can be set.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Last summer saw a flurry of motorbike and antisocial crimes, particularly in the north of the city.

Mr Blair revealed officers will be going into schools across Edinburgh to help prevent an anticipated spike in similar offences during the upcoming summer break.

He said: “Motorbike and antisocial behaviour in the north is a focus and will always be a focus. We know primarily it tends to spike towards the summer months. We cannot take our eye off that. It’s not just the theft of the bikes, it’s the antisocial behaviour that goes along with it and it’s a risk to the public. We’ve had some tragic incidents around this so we need to prevent it from happening.

“We want to eradicate the issue so intervention is key. We’re in the schools doing presentations to kids early on so we can discuss the consequences behind this.

“We want to speak to children as early as possible. We want to influence them before someone else influences them.”

Since April 1, the theft of motorbikes has reduced by 51 per cent while antisocial behaviour linked to this is down 70 per cent.

Blair has put this down to the strides taken with Operation Soteria and Operation Orbit, which have seen more officers on the streets and on motorbikes as a preventative measure. Blair declared extra resources will be ploughed into the ongoing issues of street violence and robberies after seeing an increase in this performance year.

Armed Response Vehicles will now be deployed to help with these incidents involving public protection while a national prevention task force will also be on hand now being based in Edinburgh. The specialist team deals with hate crime, prevention of violent extremism and diversion from organised crime.

“Violence is a continued challenge and I want to focus on that,” said Mr Blair. “We have done a problem profile on violence so we know we have issues across Edinburgh. I need to tap into the all the resources in Police Scotland and make sure we get the best out of what we have and we’re going to ensure we have more visibility in those areas.”

More than half of Edinburgh’s drugs supply and production crime during the last 12 months took place in the south west of the city.

This covers Sighthill/Gorgie, Pentland Hills, Collington/Fairmilehead and Fountainbridge.

Operation Screening during December and January saw targeted action and awareness of drugs crime and anti-social behaviour.

Over March and April, officers in the south west of the city made 32 arrests relating to drugs, anti-social behaviour and dishonesties. Police made 20 recoveries of drugs, totalling a value of £1200.

Mr Blair spoke about how important the role the public plays with tackling crime in Edinburgh.

Mr Blair said: “From my experience, the key to this is getting the trust of the community. What you want is community intelligence because they know who is dealing drugs in their area. We need to give them the confidence to tell us then if they give us that information then it’s vitally important we act on it.

“If we have sufficient intelligence then we can take investigative opportunities such as warrants and surveillance. There’s nothing more successful than the community telling us.”

Theft of bicycles increased 47 per cent year on year – from 1522 to 2240 throughout Edinburgh with the public recognising it as a growing issue which needed to be targeted.

Police launched Operation Agora as a result, with Mr Blair stating a dedicated team of officers have been making great strides to tackling the problem. One of the tactics has included creating a “bike passport” which is given to the purchaser of a bike with its unique details.

Officers have been out visiting 33 bike shops and other premises while giving advice to owners.

Mr Blair is adamant the rise of 18 per cent in rape and attempted rape as a plus with victims having a growing confidence to come forward.

Edinburgh remains the only division in Scotland which has a 24/7 rape investigation unit.

He said: “Sexual crime continues to rise and I genuinely see this as a positive. We need to see which of those crimes were preventable and reduce it as much as we can. Some of those crimes are not recent and are from years ago, but it means we could have people on the streets responsible for those crimes. he focus for me is the very first point of contact we treat the victims professionally and properly. We have made great strides in recent years with the highly trained individuals in that unit.”

Mr Blair has more than 1200 officers under his command with the public making recurring calls to see more of them on the streets.

With big events such as the Fringe and Military Tattoo, it will be down to him to listen to the public and place units where there is demand.

He said: “I’m committed to delivering the priorities they’ve told us to focus on. I’m dedicated to working with our agency and third sector partners to getting as much resource into Edinburgh to tackle these problems. It’s about prevention and intervention. We need to eradicate and reduce these problems. It is an absolute privilege to be the commander of Edinburgh.

“I’ve served Edinburgh policing service for 28 years. I need to make sure we provide the best service we can.

“I see improvements in the areas I expected. We never stand still. If things aren’t working we’ll tweak the plans but we’ll give it time.

“All the officers and staff are hard working. It’s in a good place and my role is to build on that as much as I can.”