POLICE “hit teams” are targeting a dozen youths believed to be responsible for a wave of car thefts and other crime in the Capital.
More than 1000 cars have been stolen or broken into across north Edinburgh over the last nine months and a gang of teenagers aged 14 and above are thought to be responsible for most of the offences.. The crimewave, concentrated on Pilton, Drylaw and Leith, accounts for a third of all car crime in the Capital.
Dedicated units have been established to target the hardcore of 12 to 15 youths who together are reponsible for up to three car crimes a day as well as housebreaking and street assaults. Officers say the youths know each other and sometimes work together.
Today, Police Scotland declared war on the prolific offenders and vowed to clean up Edinburgh estates blighted by crime.
The car crime blitz will see police:
• Target resources – including extra officers – to problem-hit areas
• Deploy helicopters and sniffer dogs
• Expand surveillance of suspects
The action in north Edinburgh forms part of a national crackdown – dubbed Operation Quarterlight – launched at Drylaw Police Station.
It is thought the dozen youths behind the rash of car thefts may be responsible for a string of street robberies and housebreakings.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, Edinburgh’s most senior cop, vowed to use “every resource” to bring the culprits to justice and said the operation would be sustained and not last “two weeks or three”.
He said: “There will be hit teams going forward, as we’ve done with housebreakings.
“This is not a two or three-week operation, it will sustain. The public can do a huge amount to assist this.”
He declined to comment on investigation techniques but said “intelligence-based detection” would be a priority.
Forensic evidence and DNA from recovered stolen property will also play a vital role in identifying repeat offenders, he said.
“It’s fair to say that where you have a close-knit community and a small group of predominantly young men, they do work together or associate with each other,” said Ch Supt Williams.
Within minutes of the launch, a series of morning raids were carried out in West Pilton – just a few streets away from Drylaw Police Station.
The Evening News joined plain-clothed officers on visits to several properties occupied by “associates” of a teenager who had breached bail conditions.
A 16-year-old boy – who was on bail for attempting to steal a car – was found at the second flat and led away in handcuffs.
He was later charged for a series of other car crimes: targeting lone vehicles and their contents in the north of the city and city centre.
In another case, a 15-year-old male with a history of vehicle crime was transferred to secure accommodation after repeatedly flouting conditions imposed by the Children’s Reporter.
A former senior police officer, who asked not to be named, said targeting the “offender rather than the offence” was the right approach from Police Scotland.
He said: “Vehicle crime can be so specialised – cars are so difficult to steal and break into that you need to have specialist knowledge.
“I think it’s an absolutely understandable approach and it will be intelligence-led and targeted at offenders.
“It’s the way to do it.
“If you’re talking about a dozen offenders, these people can be extremely prolific – they can be carrying out multiple crimes a day.
“If you get rid of a few of them, you have instantly knocked the head off it. It’s the same as housebreaking [offences].”
It is understood combating the scourge of joyriding – particularly around Pilton and Drylaw – will also become a key component of the police drive.
Ch Supt Williams said theft of motorbikes was particularly prominent in north and east Edinburgh.
“There are a number of young men who steal motorbikes and ride them in the streets and on the disused railway lines,” he said. He insisted the threat to safety was not just about innocent bystanders but also those inexperienced drivers at the helm of the vehicles.
Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Campbell Thomson said every resource would be deployed to snare car thieves and housebreakers who terrorise communities.
He said: “I would say this directly to those intent on committing vehicle crime in Scotland – if you engage in such activity, we will use every resource at our disposal to trace you, arrest you and bring you to justice. Car crime isn’t anything new – we are all aware of it.
“Acquisitive crime across Scotland is down, but this is still very much a focus for us with local communities.
“There are many different aspects to vehicle crime in Scotland.”
The latest crackdown in north Edinburgh is expected to bolster the efforts of the ongoing StrongerNorth campaign – a move to tackle antisocial behaviour and vehicle crime in north Edinburgh.
The drive was introduced in October in the wake of of shocking figures which revealed that 55 stolen motorbikes had been seized by police over a three-month period.
A total of 24 suspects aged between 12 and 22 were charged with more than 140 offences. Across Scotland, an average of 70 vehicles are stolen every week, while more than 230 are broken into or have items stolen from them.
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, welcomed the launch of Operation Quarterlight, adding that he hoped it would combat the “high proportion of car crime” suffered by the Forth and Inverleith wards.
Ch Supt Williams said the StrongerNorth campaign
had helped to improve communication between different agencies about complex social problems.
“It will take some time – some of the issues are generational,” he said.
And he urged the public to contact the police with any information relating to car crime. “We want the communities to work with us – the prevention message is absolutely key,” he said.
How to keep your vehicle safe
Police Scotland issues the following advice to prevent from your car from being stolen or broken into:
• Permanently mark any valuables you use in the vehicle, such as a Sat Nav, with your postcode and house number/name. You can register all of your equipment at www.immobilise.com.
• Fit a car alarm.
• Use locking wheel nuts to prevent the theft of your wheels.
• Never leave your car unattended to defrost windows with the keys in the ignition.
• At a petrol station, always remove keys from the ignition and lock your car if you need to walk to the petrol station shop to pay for your fuel.
• Keep your car off the street if possible. If you’re at home and you have a garage use it. Make sure you lock both the car and the garage.
• If you don’t have a garage, use your drive-way if you have one.
• Don’t park in isolated or remote areas. Whenever possible, park in a busy, well-lit and CCTV-covered area.
• Try and park close to the exit – this will increase the amount of traffic which will pass your car, making it harder for thieves to operate undetected.
• Lock all items out of sight. Don’t leave anything on display and take valuables with you. Leave the glove box empty and open.
• If you have a Sat Nav, hide the cradle and take It with you. Don’t forget to wipe the suction marks off the window.