Police chief defends housebreaking rise

Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick. Picture: Police Scotland
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick. Picture: Police Scotland
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A SENIOR police chief has denied it was a mistake to scrap Edinburgh’s specialist housebreaking detection teams – despite a plunge in clear-up rates.

Earlier this week, the Evening News revealed crime in the Capital had risen since the creation of a single national police force and detection rates had fallen.

Police Scotland has defended its tactics on housebreaking. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Police Scotland has defended its tactics on housebreaking. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Housebreakings rose from 1112 between April and October 2012 to 1203 in the same period last year, while the clear-up rate plummeted from 43.2 to 20.1 per cent. It 
followed Police Scotland’s decision to disband the dedicated burglary teams which the former Lothian and Borders force had used.

It was just one example of the alleged “Glasgowfication” of policing in Edinburgh, which critics say has also led to a change in approach on issues from saunas to stop and search.

Following the shock figures, a new elite squad has now been formed to tackle housebreaking.

But Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick, who oversees local policing for Police Scotland, said: “We’re doing exactly what I would want us to be doing – responding to an emerging crime issue, being flexible enough to do that, not forgetting we still have to focus on the priorities the public has set for us.”

She said housebreaking had not been one of the public’s top policing priorities for 2013-14.

“People in Edinburgh told us they wanted us to focus on violence, road safety, antisocial behaviour, disorder, sexual crime and domestic abuse.”

Asked if it had been a mistake to scrap housebreaking teams which were working well, and in the face of warnings that detection rates would suffer, she said: “No, I don’t see a mistake in looking at the situation and saying at that stage was housebreaking a priority for us set by the public, was it an issue we needed to put resource into instead of somewhere else.

“What we have done is look at resources across the board a few months into a new organisation. The point is being as responsive and flexible as we can to things that change and emerge.”

DCC Fitzpatrick also played down the apparent abandonment of the traditionally more liberal approach to saunas seen in Edinburgh over the past three decades.

Last summer, officers carried out a number of raids on saunas. She said: “There isn’t a separate policy Police Scotland has on these things. Policy around licensing and saunas is a matter for the council. Our responsibility is to make sure we discharge our policing responsibilities effectively.”

She rejected a distinction between sex-related offences and organised crime. “Crime is crime. If we have intelligence about crime, we have a responsibility, in particular to people who may have been victims, to do something with that.”

There has been a dramatic rise in the use of stop and search powers by police in Edinburgh – a total of 8259 such searches in the first three months of Police Scotland, compared with 4706 during the same period in 2012.

Police officers have spoken anonymously of the pressure they feel under to meet targets. But DCC Fitzpatrick said: “I do not want individual officers set targets for the number of stop and searches they do. I’m as clear as I can possibly be about that internally with divisional commanders, area commanders, inspectors and sergeants. If I find that’s happening I want to do something about it. It’s not what we intend at all.

“We do monitor stop and search because it is important for us to know how we are using what is a very effective tool and we do want to know what proportion of stop and searches result in us finding offensive weapons or drugs for example.”

But she said she wanted to ensure people who were stopped and searched were treated respectfully and understood why it was happening.

DCC Fitzpatrick defended the controversial policy of closing police station counters – which the Evening News is campaigning against – as part of the force’s drive to save money. But she appeared to accept it could have been handled better. The city council’s police scrutiny committee had received little notice of the counter closures announcement and no mention had been made of the issue at a meeting with police chiefs just a few days earlier.

DCC Fitzpatrick said: “Looking back, is there learning for us about how we do things? You always wish you could start them before you started them.

“We also have legal responsibilities when we are thinking about things that affect our staff and that affects the sequencing of some of these things.”

Three of the ten Lothian stations due to lose their counters have already been reprieved. Could more be saved? She said: “We’re at the stage of looking at what’s come in, matching it up again, going back out to talk to stakeholders and partners.”

A separate review of police buildings across the country is also under way. DCC Fitzpatrick said some parts of the estate were just not fit for purpose. But she said: “There are no plans currently for us to close police stations.”