THE number of youth crimes committed in the Capital has soared by 30 per cent in only a year, new figures have revealed.
In a surge which has stunned city bosses, delinquents under the age of 16 were responsible for just over 2330 offences in 2014 – up from around 1800 the year before.
Vandalism, motor vehicle theft, fire-raising, threatening behaviour and fighting have all been reported by residents, who said they felt increasingly “unsafe and vulnerable”.
Community and political leaders said the jump was being driven by pockets of repeat offenders and have called on police to maintain a far more visible presence on city streets.
In the worst-hit wards, including Leith and Leith Walk, the rate has almost tripled, while the city centre and Meadows-Morningside have seen a near-doubling in recorded incidents.
New evidence of a youth crime wave comes after police set up an operation involving 100 officers to tackle a “hardcore group” of 40 criminals responsible for an epidemic of housebreakings and car thefts,
Leith resident Pip Wallen-Priestley, 59, said: “You just do not feel safe – you feel vulnerable because these kids insist on hanging around all hours of the night.”
Identifying Ferry Road, North, South Fort Street, Kirkgate and Cables Wynd as problem areas, he added: “It’s wilful damage, vandalism, kids setting fire to stuff that has been fly-tipped.
“There’s always some ruckus or disturbance, fighting, graffiti. I have had my windows kicked in. And the law does not seem to have that much in place when it comes to young people under the age of 16.”
Councillor Mark McInnes, Conservative member for Meadows-Morningside, said the rise in his ward was cause for concern.
And he said local law enforcement appeared to be more “stretched” than ever following the Police Scotland merger in 2013.
“The antidote to this [rise] is visible policing,” he said. “I don’t think the community policing is as good as it was under Lothian and Borders Police, and I think that’s connected to the merger.”
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, said he would look closely at the deployment of police and youth welfare teams.
He said: “The Meadows-Morningside figure surprises me – that seems an unusual one for us.
“This is about a small handful of young people who are committing a number of crimes but regardless we need to make sure we are putting our resources where they are most needed.
“[It might mean] an increased police presence if that’s required. We fund £2.6 million of community policing across the city.”
He added: “With the pressure that’s on Police Scotland and the council, we need to look at budgets. Any reductions [in the community policing grant] would be looked at without taking bobbies off the beat.”
A police spokeswoman said: “Police Scotland focuses its attention on protecting communities across Scotland and there are a number of initiatives throughout the city, such as Stronger North and Operation Quarterlight, which contribute to addressing issues around youth crime.”
Dirty dozen targeted
WE revealed earlier this year how police appointed “hit teams” to target a dozen youths believed to be responsible for a wave of car thefts and other crime in the Capital.
More than 1000 cars were stolen or broken into across north Edinburgh in the nine months leading up to January this year, with a gang of teenagers aged 14 and above thought to be responsible for most of the offences.
The crime wave, concentrated on Pilton, Drylaw and Leith, accounted for a third of all car crime in the city.
Dedicated units have been established to target the hardcore of 12 to 15 youths who together are responsible for up to three car crimes a day, as well as housebreaking and street assaults.
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, Edinburgh’s most senior officer, told the News: “This is not a two or three-week operation, it will sustain. The public can do a huge amount to assist this.”