Police Scotland 1 year on: Housebreakings soar

Housebreakings have risen in the first year of the single Scottish force. Picture: Toby Williams
Housebreakings have risen in the first year of the single Scottish force. Picture: Toby Williams
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EDINBURGH’S city commander has pledged his support in continuing controversial stop-and-search powers as Police Scotland today marked its one-year anniversary.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said he “absolutely believes in” stop-and-search tactics as new figures revealed a 39 per cent surge in their use in the Capital since the launch of the single force.

More than 27,000 stop and searches took place between last April and the end of February, with one in five proving “positive” for weapons, drugs or stolen property.

Figures released today also showed:

• Housebreakings soared by 23 per cent over the last 11 months, with less than one in three break-ins solved by officers;

• Violent crime dropped by 12 per cent over the same period, with serious assaults and robberies down;

• Solved rapes have increased from 38 to 65 per cent, spearheaded by the dedicated Divisional Rape Investigation Unit;

• 200 organised crime gang members have been charged, while drug dealing charges climbed by 28 per cent;

• Driving offences rose by a third, with 13,964 recorded in the city in 11 months.

Chief Supt Williams dismissed claims stop and search and last year’s raids on the city’s saunas represented a “Glasgow-centric” response to policing which had ignored local needs.

Indeed, he cited the transfer of 160 officers from “response” roles – typically patrolling in cars – to local beats and shift pattern changes putting more officers on weekday evenings and late at night on Fridays and Saturdays as the “biggest” changes in the last year.

Stop and search came under fire in recent weeks after Scotland’s chief constable, Sir Stephen House, admitted some of the checks by officers may have been “made up”.

Chief Supt Williams said: “I absolutely believe in stop and search as a tactic to target violent crime. It enables us to catch offenders carrying weapons, drugs and stolen property. Clearly we increased our levels of stop and search and that will continue as it’s an effective tool.

“The number of knives and offensive weapons recovered between last April and the end of February was 405, up 30 per cent from the same period a year before. I think that’s a fantastic result. Each one of those weapons could have been used in a murder, an attempted murder or a robbery.

“I’m not aware of any stop and searches being made up in Edinburgh. If that was ever shown to be the case then the officers concerned would be disciplined. But it makes no sense to inflate them as the only target is making ‘positive’ searches. Made up searches only water that down. I’m confident our officers are acting with integrity and fairness, and it’s worth noting the number of complaints from those stopped and searched is miniscule, if not non-existent.”

Housebreaking has proved perhaps the highest profile failure for Police Scotland in Edinburgh after the scrapping of its dedicated unit last April led to solvency rates plummeting by 20 per cent.

The dramatic drop prompted a reversal by police chiefs who re-established a housebreaking team under Operation RAC in December which has partly reversed the trend.

But the number of housebreakings has still soared by 23 per cent, increasing from 1600 to 2000 over 11 months. Solved cases currently stand at 29 per cent over the period – far short of the 38 per cent last recorded by Lothian and Borders Police.

Chief Supt Williams said: “It was September last year when we started to note a significant increase in housebreakings. Once it became a problem, we put in the resources to try and reverse that. Housebreaking was perhaps not enough of a national and local priority, but it absolutely is now.

“I’m confident the solvency rates will be back up in the 30+ range for next year.”

Unlike housebreaking, violent crime was an immediate priority in Edinburgh under Police Scotland, and a 12 per cent fall in offences has been recorded.

Serious assaults dropped slightly from 120 to 118 over 11 months, but Chief Supt Williams said he expected a “bigger gap” in the full-year figures with no such attacks reported in the last two weeks.

He highlighted a “fantastic jump” in robbery detection rates – from 59 to 68 per cent – while the number of hold-ups fell 27 per cent from 356 to 258.

“Robbery has been a real issue in Edinburgh and we’ve made a real effort to tackle this robustly,” said Chief Supt Williams. “We’ve made real efforts to identify offenders and where they commit robberies while using stop and searches, high-visibility policing and the patrolling of robbery hotspots.

“That’s been combined with a prevention message to the public to improve their own security. Obviously it’s not sensible to walk down dark streets at 2.30am wearing a pair of £300 headphones and our publicity campaigns have been getting the message out.”

Meanwhile, figures showed reported rapes increased between last April and early March, rising from 128 to 145 on the previous year.

Chief Supt Williams said: “Sadly, rape is still an under-reported crime. I hope this rise in reports reflects a growing confidence among victims to trust our officers to make arrests and handle cases sensitively.

“Out of the 145 cases, 68 were ‘historic’ in that they took place outwith the last year. That obviously presents its own challenges.

“But with a dedicated unit to investigate sexual crimes, we’ve seen a big rise in solved cases, going up from 38 to 65 per cent over the year. We have more senior, experienced officers who only handle these cases and that’s having an impact.”

Eileen Maitland, from Rape Crisis Scotland, today welcomed the surge in arrests being made in rape cases.

She said: “While we can never know for sure if a rise in the number of reported rapes is due to increased confidence in reporting, a higher number of rapes, or a combination of these factors, it’s reassuring to see Police Scotland dedicating specialist officers to investigate this devastating crime.”

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “A new organisation will make 
mistakes but there has been a centralisation of decision-making which led to problems like the housebreaking unit being disbanded and solvency rates falling. I hope they will start making more decisions from the bottom up rather than the top down in future.”

Since last April, detectives from Edinburgh’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit have charged 200 members of serious and organised crime groups in the 11 months, far exceeding their set target of 115 arrests.

Drug dealing and cannabis cultivation charges rose from 380 to 490. And around 
£4.4 million of assets belonging to gang members, including properties, cash, vehicles and businesses have been identified for potential seizure under Proceeds of Crimes laws.

Chief Supt Williams also welcomed the soaring number of traffic offences under the single force with its dedicated city road policing unit, saying its aim was to save lives.