DOMESTIC break-ins to homes across Edinburgh have dropped by more than a half in the space of just five months, police say.
Local force bosses admitted in April they were struggling to cope with a rising number of housebreaking incidents linked with car crime.
But now they have reported a sea change, in part prompted by Operation RAC, a dedicated crackdown on thieves.
In March, there were 322 reports of domestic break-ins in the city, and of these just over a quarter were solved.
The number of thefts dropped to just 133 break-ins in July, and 63 were solved – amounting to a 47 per cent detection rate.
City police boss Chief Superintendent Mark Williams hailed the figures – which reflect a 58.7 per cent reduction in domestic break-ins – as a great improvement.
However, he insisted that cutting the number of break-ins to homes would remain a “number one priority”.
Ch Supt Williams, pictured far right, said: “My goal is to reduce break-ins. Clearly there’s still a lot of work to do. We still need the public to help us in terms of home security, to take some simple steps. We will keep pursuing those responsible and keep locking them up.”
Operation RAC was re-launched in April after city police admitted there was an “epidemic” of break-ins to homes which were leading to vehicles being stolen.
A “hardcore” of young men – many of whom were based in north Edinburgh – were suspected of operating in a network and co-ordinating on social media. At the height of the issue, one in six housebreakings resulted in a car being taken. However, Ch Supt Williams said cases like those have all but stopped. Local officers and units were bolstered by national resources to help bring the issue under control in a series of raids and proactive patrols.
Ch Supt Williams said that Operation RAC would remain in place for the time being, as his officers were continuing to have success. He said the extra amount of police officers and increased high-visibility patrols were also helping to reduce other offences, including vandalism and minor assaults.
Ch Supt Williams – who described north Edinburgh as the “engine room” for crime during a recent live Q&A with the News – said officers were also committed to carrying out curfew checks on young offenders to ensure they were adhering to court conditions.
Ian Murray MP, who recently spoke out about a spate of housebreakings in his south Edinburgh constituency, said he was heartened by the latest figures.
But he said that a fear of theft continued to be an issue among residents – and raised concerns that social media was only fuelling the problem.
The Labour representative said he had recently met with local area commander Chief Inspector Chris Scobie at Howdenhall police station to discuss local issues around domestic break-ins.
Mr Murray told the News today: “People are fearful about housebreakings now, and it spreads like wildfire. I congratulate local police officers on the beat about the figures, but the key thing is that there is still a perception problem out there and there’s a huge worry about if they are going to get hit by thieves.”
Mr Murray raised concerns last month, after residents in the quiet Greenend Estate and cul-de-sac The Spinney, in Gilmerton and Liberton, claimed they had been “plagued” by break-ins.
Domestic break-ins have been a particularly sensitive issue for the Capital, as dedicated squads from the legacy Lothian and Borders Police force were disbanded when the new national police structure was created. The city re-established its housebreaking teams in December 2013 under Operation RAC, after the amount of solved cases plummeted under the single force.
Meanwhile, plans are still under way to invite sheriffs to trouble-hit areas of Edinburgh to speak to victims of crime.
The proposal is being led by Councillor Cammy Day as part of the Stronger North project to improve the fortunes of the north district of the city.
It is hoped that Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen and her colleagues will agree to visit neighbourhoods including West Pilton, where there have been repeated concerns about youths joyriding stolen motorbikes and terrorising locals with antisocial behaviour.
Locals have criticised the courts and Children’s Reporter systems, claiming they do not give harsh enough punishments to young offenders who quickly return to the streets to re-offend.
Community representatives are hopeful that the move will put pressure on courts to enforce harsher sentences on teenage repeat offenders.
Vehicle offences fall by fifth in one year
NEW figures have shown that vehicle crime has dropped by a fifth compared with last year – and officers are solving more cases.
But police have warned that motorbike thefts will inevitably go up over the summer season.
Ch Supt Williams revealed that vehicle crime as a whole was down 20.5 per cent, while detection rates are up 6.2 per cent in comparison with April-July last year.
He said: “We’re doing a lot on social media with security advice and trying to speak to businesses and guesthouses. People need to be careful about where they’re parking their bikes.
“There’s a natural seasonal element to it – motorbike thefts always go up [at this time of year].”
Foreign motorcyclists are a particular target during the summer months, as they are less likely to have travelled with secure ground anchors or chains.
Guesthouses are being urged to provide extra security measures for them, or to offer secure parking.
Meanwhile, a 14-year-old boy who crashed a stolen motorbike in north Edinburgh earlier this month remains in hospital with “life-changing injuries”.
The youngster, who has not been named, was thrown from the BMW 1150cc bike before landing on nearby rocks in West Shore Road in Granton a fortnight ago.
He had not been wearing a helmet at the time and is understood to have undergone major surgery following the crash.
Police are continuing to investigate the incident, and the bike is believed to have been stolen from a nearby property.
It followed repeated complaints about youngsters joyriding stolen vehicles in the north Edinburgh area.
Although police have hailed a drop in vehicle crime overall, local motorcyclists claim the issue is still rife.
An anonymous bike enthusiast wrote the News to complain that not enough was being done.
He hit out at a recent report in which police said they consider the pursuit of stolen vehicles on a case by case basis.
Speaking to the News last month, Superintendent Alan Porte said that if a pursuit resulted in a deadly crash and led to a fatal accident inquiry, his position in some cases would be “totally indefensible” as he would have been aware that the criminals were not experienced drivers.
The reader said: “It seems to the public that the police are powerless and doing nothing about it.
“Every single biker I speak to has either had their bike stolen, has had an attempted theft or knows someone who has, and bikers are now constantly watching over their shoulder when sitting on their bikes I case they are attacked or followed home.”
He said that the young offenders “know they are untouchable”, adding: “It’s just a matter of time before someone seriously assaults one of these teens or is seriously assaulted by one of these teens, when all they are trying to do is protect their own property.”
Over the weekend, roads policing officers travelled around the east of Scotland in a bid to spread the safety motorbike message.
So far there have been 18 motorbike deaths on Scotland’s roads, including six in the East area which includes Lothian and Borders.
Officers stopped bikers and encouraged them to look into their Live Fast Die Old Facebook campaign, which offers tips about riding safely.
They also carried out enforcement activity if they caught anyone committing any other traffic offences.
The ongoing drive is advising motorcyclists to take part in advanced driving courses, and to visit livefastdieold.scot.