LEITH Walk was today revealed as Edinburgh's car crime hotspot.
Figures released to the Evening News show that almost 140 were stolen from the area in the space of a year – compared to just 24 in the safest area of Colinton/Fairmilehead.
Today's figures show there were a total of 1232 car thefts in the city in 2008 – more than 100 every month. But police are keen to stress the number of crimes is on the decline.
On average, less than four vehicles were stolen every day compared to nearly seven a day for 2003, in what was described at the time as a "car crime epidemic".
Police chiefs said they expected vehicle thefts in the Capital to continue to fall as advances in security made life harder for opportunist thieves.
Officers added that joyriding was also becoming less prevalent in the city as young criminals could no longer simply "hotwire" cars, but they warned that the thieves operating today were showing greater ingenuity than ever before to target cars, motorbikes and vans.
Inspector Jill Kerr, from the force's road policing unit, said: "Vehicles are becoming more difficult to steal because of immobilisers and other safety features. That has meant we've seen a fall in the numbers being stolen.
"But that has also meant we've seen a change in their approach. Rather than smashing a window and hotwiring a car, thieves now steal the keys.
"They might break into your home, and we've seen thieves forcing open lockers in sports centres to get to keys. Most likely they watch for owners driving up in a nice car then follow them into the changing rooms.
"Our advice to drivers is be careful with your keys. Don't just leave them by the front door on a coffee table or somewhere. Put them away safely.
"We still see high numbers of break-ins to cars, with thieves going for sat nav kits and things like mobile phones. Our advice is, make sure these devices are concealed out of sight."
Although many vehicles were taken by teenage joyriders, Insp Kerr said that the majority were resold, while a smaller number were stolen for use in crimes such as housebreakings and ram-raids. Overall, the number of car thefts in Edinburgh has fallen by around eight per cent in the last year.
It comes after police chiefs established the road crime reduction unit, which is based at Fettes HQ, to tackle serial offenders. A team of four detectives is tasked with putting away serial car thieves.
Police analysts also examine car crime data to produce a fortnightly report identifying current trends and hotspots where extra patrols and resources can be introduced.
Insp Kerr added: "The road crime reduction team have an excellent clear-up rates for investigating thefts. They can look at the modus operandi and where the incident happened and often narrow it down to a few suspects. Crime studies have shown that 80 per cent of offences are typically carried out by 20 per cent of criminals. I would think that's true of car crime.
"There are prolific offenders in Edinburgh, often young men in their late teens, who steal cars to sell them on.
"It's a stretch to call them organised criminal gangs but there is a structure there.
"The recovery rate for stolen vehicles in Edinburgh is very good. The vast majority are found again and returned to their owners."
In November, it was revealed that police had seized 21 "cloned" cars used in crimes, including ram-raids and break-ins, during the last nine months in a crackdown on the stolen vehicle trade in the Lothians. Ten people were arrested by officers investigating the scam, in which crooks conceal a stolen car's identity by attaching numbers plate from a similar vehicle.
Around 30 plates are stolen every month in the Lothians, many to provide cover for identical stolen vehicles.
Angela Blacklock, a councillor for the Leith Walk ward, said: "My constituents have come to me with problems about vandalism to vehicles in the area, possibly involving groups of young people hanging around at night. I wasn't aware there may be a problem regarding thefts.
"I would like to speak with the local police about the streets affected and whether we can do anything to make them safer for owners. That may involve improving CCTV or holding street police surgeries for residents."
The increase in CCTV coverage in the Capital has been cited by police as another factor behind the declining rate of car crime.
Neil Greig, policy chief with the AA Motoring Trust in Scotland, said: "It's quite honest of the police to admit that technology is largely responsible for the improving figures rather than taking credit themselves.
"Few cars are broken into and driven away nowadays because of immobilisers. It's difficult for thieves to do anything without the keys.
"A potential downside is the threat of increased violence against drivers by thieves trying to get that vital key. Our advice is to treat your key as carefully as you would your wallet or credit cards."
Police warned owners selling their cars to be on their guard against scams used by brazen car thieves.
Last summer, a gang of Eastern European criminals conned drivers by handing over forged banker's drafts when buying their vehicles. The crooks struck three times in the Lothians, stealing vehicles worth nearly 100,000, which were shipped abroad.
And a bricklayer who trawled adverts online to steal cars so he could pay loan sharks was jailed for 16 months in December.
Alan Boulter, 23, stole eight cars worth almost 50,000 in total, in and around Edinburgh between May and September last year.
Boulter would pose as a potential buyer to people selling before driving off, and managed to steal a 10,000 Audi TT, a 6000 Honda Civic and a 12,000 Volkswagen Golf among others.
Cars stolen in Edinburgh in 2008
City Centre: 86
Leith Walk: 139
SAFETY TIPS FOR VEHICLE OWNERS
1. Invest in security equipment such as wheel-locks and immobilisers, alarms and trackers
2. Remove your sat nav and stereo/CD player when you leave your car
3. Consider etching your vehicle ID number on to surfaces
4. Before buying, check the vehicle you are interested in is not stolen
1. Don't leave your belongings visible on the seat or dashboard – even if it's only for ten minutes
2. Don't leave windows, doors or sunroofs open
3. Don't leave your car unatten-ded with the key in the ignition
4. Don't leave your car keys where they could be stolen – for example, on your hall table
5. Don't leave your car in badly lit or poorly visible places