Gina Davidson: Don't expect Force to be with you in this police culture of cuts

ANOTHER car was stolen from the street in which I live last week. This time it was in the middle of the night, but again the thieves broke into the house on the lookout for car keys and nothing else.

Friday, 26th August 2016, 7:37 am
Updated Friday, 26th August 2016, 8:44 am
Thieves are stealing vehicles to break into homes. Picture; stock image

They bypassed technological bits and pieces, didn’t even look at jewellery; just scoured the house for the keys.

They found them at the bedside of the sleeping owners who, thankfully, never heard a thing.

But how terrifying that someone was at your side as you lay asleep –watching for the slightest move that might suggest you were waking. Who knows what might have happened should they have opened their eyes.

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With keys found, off they went into the night in the white Mercedes – towards Glasgow this time. Back in January when my next-door neighbour suffered the same fate, the car headed for Edinburgh.

At another house in the street, kitchen installers had their tools stolen while they worked. Hundreds of pounds worth of equipment lifted from their van.

So far we’ve been lucky. And our old banger is unlikely to be targeted. But without doubt everyone is on edge that their home or car might be next. A Neighbourhood Watch has been convened.

The response of the police is familiar. They know there are gangs who are stealing cars to order but it appears there’s little they can do. So they ask if anyone saw anything suspicious and ask for the public’s help. A successful outcome is not very likely.

But then, what more can they do? Under the previous Chief Constable, Stephen House, housebreakings were considered of little importance – the emphasis was definitely on stop and search and meeting knife crime arrest targets. Oh, and disrupting Edinburgh’s sauna premises.

And while that may have changed of late there can be no doubt that the thin blue line is under such strain that gaps are appearing. Gaps which mean if your car is stolen you’ll receive sympathy and a crime number – maybe even spark a public appeal – but perhaps not much more.

After all, you can’t possibly expect to save millions in the creation of a national force without silencing a few police whistles.

Statistics can always be read in a variety of ways, but this week the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) have used them to suggest that government cuts to policing have seen the number of officers in Edinburgh reduced from 70 per shift to just over 38. That is disputed by Police Scotland and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has reiterated her pledge that frontline police numbers will remain at their current level.

We all know that the financial squeeze on the force – it has a current deficit of £26 million – is paid for in other ways. Officers may not lose their jobs but backroom staff, civilians, do. And the impact that has on officers’ time can be huge. More time is spent on administration than out on the streets. Decisions are made about whether crimes are worth pursuing at all based on the officer numbers available –rather than the impact on the victim.

The SPF has even alleged that cost cuts have led to officers buying equipment from charity shops and drug dealer investigations being shelved to avoid overtime costs.

In West Lothian things are apparently so bad that there are only four officers out on duty at night – in pairs of course, so that means just two cars to comb a massive geographical area.

For a long time people have had an unshakeable belief that if they are the victims of crime – if their house is robbed, their car stolen – then the police will do their utmost to help. We need them to make us feel secure in society.

If there’s not enough of them to go around, that security fades. Playing semantics with headline numbers of officers does nothing to help find the people that stole the car from my street. Or make us all feel safe in our beds at night.