Edinburgh crime rises since Police Scotland launch

Since a dedicated burglary unit was scrapped, the number of housebreaking crimes solved has fallen dramatically. Picture (posed by model): Ian Georgeson
Since a dedicated burglary unit was scrapped, the number of housebreaking crimes solved has fallen dramatically. Picture (posed by model): Ian Georgeson
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CRIME in Edinburgh has risen since Police Scotland was launched – while the number of solved cases has dropped, new figures revealed today.

A total of 21,670 offences were reported between the launch of the single force in April and October, compared with 19,158 for the same period a year before.

This 13 per cent jump has been accompanied by a decline in clear-up rates, which fell from 43.3 to 40 per cent.

Key among the startling figures are those for burglary, which show more housebreakers are getting away with their crimes under Police Scotland than before the force was unified.

After a dedicated burglar unit was scrapped, solvency rates in Lothian plummeted by 20 per cent – a shocking fall police chiefs are currently aiming to address with a new unit.

Today, police chiefs claimed the spike in offences was due to “proactive policing” and stressed that more violent crimes were being solved after it became a “force priority”.

But critics say Police Scotland had been distracted by side issues like closing saunas, rather than concentrating on crimes “people really care about”.

Detective Superintendent Gareth Blair said much of the rising recorded crime was down to “good policing”.

“Our priority is keeping people safe and when you look at that we are very successful,” he said.

“It has been a national priority to focus on violence and that proactive approach has produced results. During this period, there have been 93 fewer victims of violence, 37 of serious assault and 78 of robbery. We have increased stop and searches, which was right to do, and that has helped to increase arrests for carrying knives and drugs.

“We have focused on these priorities and our performance has been very good, but we acknowledge that we need to continue focusing on local priorities like housebreaking in Edinburgh.”

The figures, released under Freedom of Information laws, showed that solvency rates for violent crime rose from 67.9 per cent to 78.8 per cent and solved rapes soared to 67 per cent from a humble 26.6 per cent.

Det Supt Blair said: “There has been a rise in reported rapes and indecent assaults. Obviously we want to reduce the occurrence of sexual crimes, but we know that they are under-reported. The force has been working hard to gain the confidence of victims that the police will take strong and effective action.

“We now have the divisional rape units, which are dedicated to these investigations and operate 24/7, and I believe they have made an important difference.”

Det Supt Blair added that another force priority – targeting road traffic offences – had seen their number between April and October climb from 6259 to 10,305.

Police have been accused of employing a “Glasgow-centric” approach to targeting crime, with more stop and searches cited as an example.

Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Cameron Buchanan said: “There has been so much time and effort spent on the reorganisation of Police Scotland people will wonder if that’s come at the expense of solving crime.

“What people really care about are offences like housebreaking, things that have an extremely negative impact on their lives.

“Instead, police in Edinburgh seem to be placing effort in things like tackling the saunas, something almost nobody complains about.”

The detection rate for housebreakings in the Capital has slumped from 43.2 per cent pre-Police Scotland to just 20.1 per cent since the dawn of the force.

A former senior police officer at Lothian and Borders Police said the decision to reclassify housebreaking at a lower priority was a “mistake”.

And he insisted that centralising decision-making and adopting a one-size-fits-all approach failed to acknowledge subtleties of regional policing.

He said: “Housebreaking is at the very core of a community. In my time there was always great emphasis on housebreaking: there were dedicated squads to investigate, rapid response from forensics and focused intelligence on housebreakers. When Police Scotland came into force they decided to drop housebreaking as a priority, which I thought was a big mistake. Now they have disbanded the specialist squads, lost the intelligence picture, lost sight of the small group that is doing it and, lo and behold, housebreaking rises and detection rates fall.

“This was as inevitable as night follows day.

“Police Scotland has only been in operation for nine months, so it’s still early to reach any firm conclusions about it. But Edinburgh has its own unique crime patterns as do other Scottish cities. They are not the same and never will be, so you have to tailor your response to an individual place.

“There has got to be a realisation that, after the first year, if you are going to have a local policing plan sensitive to local issues, you have to leave it in the hands of local divisional commanders. If we want to get back on track that’s got to happen in the future.”

Addressing Edinburgh’s trend-bucking police statistics, David Sinclair, a spokesman for Victim Support Scotland, said: “Overall, we agree with the Police Scotland strategy, which has concentrated much more on serious sexual crimes and the clear-up rates there are impressive. This is a bedding in period for the force and I’m very confident that subsequent figures will show that priority is being given to serious areas of crime such as sexual crimes and rapes.

“I think Police Scotland is in its very early days and all the signs are positive. Of course, there are always going to be statistics that have to be improved upon, particularly in housebreaking. But I think that’s an element that has been identified and I am confident Police Scotland is aware of it and is taking steps to tackle it.”

Thieves swayed by ‘Tesco effect’ crime patterns

EDINBURGH’S worrying crime hike contrasts with a national picture that shows a significant drop in recorded incidents.

Crime across the country is at a 39-year low, according to the Scottish Government figures. But while changes to policing and advances in crime-fighting technology has boosted detection rates, economic factors can also play a pivotal role in driving down offences – burglaries, in particular. The influx of cheap electronic goods from China and the Far East has prompted burglars to turn to other crimes such as on-street robberies and muggings, according to research. Known as the “Tesco effect”, the British Crime Survey revealed the cheap goods boom means it’s no longer worth stealing a DVD player.

More likely to be victim of burglary than sex attack

INDEPENDENT MSP Margo MacDonald has been a vocal critic of Police Scotland’s perceived change of tack on the city’s licensed sex industry, but also airs concern about the plunging figures for housebreakings solved.

Today, she gives her view on Police Scotland’s crime statistics.

She said: “The one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb for me are the figures for solving housebreaking, which have plummeted.

“Like every other woman in Edinburgh, particularly after the reported sex attack on Hogmanay, I want to see an efficient and effective way of preventing sex attacks and then detecting and punishing offenders.

“The victims should also feel that they get justice.

“But I do think most people will have most fear of being broken into than anything else, because it’s much more likely.

“I was broken into myself years ago so I know what it feels like.

“Any member of the public looking at these figures can only come to the conclusion that housebreaking does not have as high a priority as it did previously. I would urge that this priority is reinstated.

“It seems the police have put effort into the wrong places.

“I suppose, reluctantly, I must concede that there is a role for stop and search – but I think it is a much more refined role than perhaps we have at present.

“There is no reasons at all for dedicating as many resources on the saunas.

“The health board have let it be known that in terms of the public interest, a controlled system of managed sex-for-sale is the preferable option.”