Councillors have been warned that “dangerous” cuts to police funding could put a long-running fight against motorcycle crime in north Edinburgh “at risk”.
Last week, the authority agreed it will cut £522,000 from Police Scotland’s £1.6m of funding in the 2019-20 financial year – resulting in the expected loss of nine officers and potentially making it more difficult to continue campaigns such as Operation Soteria, which has worked to halt motorcycle crime in the north of the Capital over the last three years.
Muirhouse Liberal Democrat Cllr Kevin Lang, said: “I am deeply concerned that the progress we have made to tackle motorbike crime is now being put at risk.
“The police and local community have worked extremely hard to get on top of this problem over the last two years. The ongoing effort to identify offenders and engage young people in schools has made a huge difference. Just last year, we heard how motorbike related thefts and incidents had fallen by almost a third.
“That is why these cuts to police funding, forced through by the SNP and Labour councillors, are so dangerous. If Operation Soteria is stopped, I fear the big problems we saw three years ago will return. The people of Muirhouse will simply not forgive the council if this is allowed to happen.”
Conservatives, who along with the Lib Dems called for the funding to continue in their alternative budget plans, have also blasted the council for cutting the funding. Conservative group chairman, Cllr Jason Rust, has accused the council of a “slash first, think later approach”.
He added: “It is really important to safeguard local policing and ensure that there is a link between citizens and police.
“I am seriously concerned if very welcome preventative police work previously undertaken as well as detection of crime is put at risk by this council cut.
“The Conservative group fully appreciates the need to achieve value for money and to have a proper review of the agreement with Police Scotland, but if we are facing a situation whereby the disinvestment by this Labour and SNP administration results in an inability to tackle crime, that will seriously impact on our communities.”
But Labour group leader and depute council leader, Cllr Cammy Day, has hit back at the critics, accusing them of “playing party politics with serious issues”. Cllr Day insists the reduction on community police funding will not impact on measures to tackle motorcycle crime. He added: “This is really unfortunate and deeply disappointing that political groups are playing party politics with serious issues like this. Motorcycle crime and community policing are completely different issues.
“My colleague Councillor Donald Wilson will lead a review of the service level agreement we have with the police. Motorcycle crime is the responsibility of Police Scotland and if people have any concerns, I would urge them to take it up with the police.”
In October, it was reported that a crackdown on joyriders had seen incidents of motorcycle theft more than halved over a 12-month period. Figures revealed 278 fewer bikes stolen between April and September and 346 fewer antisocial behaviour incidents being reported, reductions of 60 per cent and 54 per cent respectively.
Police Scotland said it still aims to prioritise Operation Soteria, despite a 20 per cent funding reduction in the next financial year.
Chief Superintendent Gareth Blair said: “Whilst the reduction in funding will reduce the number of officers within Edinburgh, I will continue to work closely with our partners to focus on our priorities.
“Operation Soteria, house- breaking and antisocial behaviour will continue to be among these priorities.
“Additionally, Edinburgh Division will continue to benefit from the deployment of wider Police Scotland resources when required. By working in partnership with a range of organisations we have achieved significant reductions in these crimes over the last year.”