Youths awaiting punishment for housebreaking are carrying out final “fill your boots” crime sprees before they are locked up due to a lack of detention facilities for young offenders, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has said.
Thieves can also steal cars and motorcycles without fear of pursuit by the police, amid concerns about officers provoking a road accident if they chase offenders down. Many offenders are eastern European groups whom police often struggle to identify, Sir Stephen said.
Foreign criminals are trafficking stolen cars abroad and also hide out if police attention “gets a bit hot” before returning to Scotland to commit more crimes, Sir Stephen added.
He made the comments as Police Scotland officials were quizzed on the high rate of housebreaking and car thefts in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh, by the Scottish Police Authority at a public board meeting in Glasgow.
Sir Stephen said: “Many of the offenders, particularly in Edinburgh, are youngsters and that puts pressures on the whole system. We need to have enough places to deal effectively and appropriately with young offenders for housebreaking, because the prejudice is if they are caught and taken into custody that they are released.
“Unfortunately, what you get is spree offences where they know that day of reckoning is coming, they know they’re going to be going to court, they know they’re going to be getting some sort of custodial sentence, and therefore the phrase ‘fill your boots’ comes to mind.
“There’s nothing deterring them from committing more and more offences until they go to court.”
He added: “There are gangs involved in it – gangs might be too strong a word. There are groupings involved in it.
“It is partly a youngsters thing, but there are a variety of different methods and profiles.
“There is also no doubt that there have been eastern European groupings involved in a number of the crimes, and that adds complications.
“They can be young, identities are not always certain, and they can go back and forwards out of the country.”
Some thieves break into houses to steal keys for high-value cars to take out of the country, or low-value vehicles for use in other crimes, he said.
“That can lead with difficult situations around pursuit, and that happens a lot with motorbikes in Edinburgh,” he said.
“It’s a well-known phenomenon that happens in Aberdeen as well, but you get in Edinburgh, quite regularly, youngsters on motorbikes riding around fairly openly.
“That gives us and my officers a particular problem because we have very strict rules around engagement in pursuits, for obvious reasons around proportionality. Particularly so with motorcycles, particularly where the riders are young, reckless and might not be experienced motorcyclists.
“Frankly, a police pursuit in those circumstances is going to lead to injury so there are all sorts of complications. It’s a problem that we are determined to deal with but it is proving a difficult one and we are putting a lot of resources to it.”
Sir Stephen added: “We’ve arrested, in the last period, 161 people for housebreaking. It’s not that we are not making the arrests. Often we know who is doing it, and they will continue to do it if they are still out on the streets.
“But there are issues involved here in terms of youngsters, repeat offenders, foreign nationals who may exit the country for a few months while it gets a bit hot and then come back later on.”
Figures from Police Scotland show that in Edinburgh the number of housebreakings has risen by 20 per cent in a year, including an 11.6 per cent rise in domestic break-ins.
Figures have fallen across the rest of the country.