Crime is down but half of all offences still left unsolved
POLICE have failed to improve their detection rates, despite a fall in the number of crimes and record levels of officers on the streets.
• Picture: Getty
There were 39,400 fewer crimes committed in 2009-10 than the previous year, a 10 per cent drop, according to Scottish Government figures out yesterday.
Officer numbers have reached 17,425 in Scotland, a record high, and forces have put greater focus on community policing, leading to more police on the beat.
However, the Recorded Crime in Scotland report revealed this has failed to lead to an improvement in detection rates, with police successfully solving 49 per cent of crimes - the same level as in 2008-9.
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "We welcome the reduction in crime, where the police have done a brilliant job in making progress, but at the same time, it's crucial that not only are crimes recorded but also that they are solved.
"The people responsible must be apprehended and dealt with appropriately or else they will commit further crimes in future.
"If we are making improvements in reducing crime but not in solving it, then we are not making progress in a key area of policing."
David Sinclair, of Victim Support Scotland, said: "From the victim's perspective, it is vital that as many crimes that can be solved, are solved. That is the very tenet of the justice system which is crucial in Scotland."
Police will come under even more pressure, with anticipated budget cuts of up to 25 per cent over four years. Strathclyde Police plans to cut 200 officers and 600 civilian staff, while Central aims to reduce police numbers by 194 - a quarter - and support staff by 180. Pat Shearer, chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway, has said he expects 62 officers and 138 civilians to go.Such drastic cuts are expected to put pressure on crime figures, which have fallen every year since 2004-5.
Scottish Police Federation chairman Les Gray warned recently that if the UK government pushed through the level of cuts feared, it would have "blood on its hands".
David O'Connor, president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, warned: "We can't deliver more with less, and while policing comes with a cost, it also has a value and I would urge stakeholders to carefully consider that when cutting our budgets."
Mr O'Connor defended the police's lack of progress in detection rates, saying: "Sometimes, the less crime there is, the harder it can be to detect.
"When you've got a lot of crime, the very fact that so much is connected and committed by the same groups of people, who go on the rampage through communities, mean detection rates can go up quite quickly.
"The other thing is that police have invested heavily in areas such as child protection, sex offender management and counter-terrorism, which are preventative but also very important areas of policing."
The Scottish Government counts crime separately from what it considers less serious offences, such as breach of the peace, minor assaults and drink driving. Under this measure, crime is at its lowest level in 32 years. The number of less serious offences rose slightly in 2009-10, driven by an increase in people caught drinking in public places where alcohol has been banned.
However, violent crimes such as murder and serious assaults fell by 11 per cent. Dishonesty, including housebreaking and theft, were down by 9 per cent. And vandalism and fire-raising dropped by 15 per cent.
Cases involving the handling of an offensive weapon fell by 22 per cent, while drugs offences slipped by 7 per cent. Sex crimes such as rape and indecent assault were the only ones to rise.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown said: "The large fall in recorded crimes of violence and in the carrying of knives demonstrates the success of the violence reduction unit, work in breaking down gang barriers, effective community policing and other evidence-based work. These figures will be a relief to local communities plagued by violent crime."
Tory justice spokesman John Lamont said: "Scotland's police forces should be congratulated for their efforts in cutting crime rates and keeping our neighbourhoods safe. The challenge is to find ways of maintaining that front-line presence."
Assistant Chief Constable Cliff Anderson, general secretary of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: "Acpos welcomes the decrease in recorded crime, particularly relating to crimes of violence. The Scottish police service is committed to maximising the effectiveness of its officers and staff, and addressing crime through a combination of prevention and detection."
Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: "Today's statistics represent good news for all law-abiding citizens. Recorded crime is at its lowest level in 32 years, the clear-up rate remains positive, and there are more police officers across Scotland than ever before."
Positive trend - despite rise
Incidents of rape and attempted rape rose by 3 per cent last year, with indecency the only crime group to increase.
Other sexual offences went up by 2 per cent according to the Scottish Government's crime statistics.
However, police have admitted previously that the reporting of sexual crimes has been too low and have encouraged more victims to come forward, through high profile campaigns, including one over the Christmas period.
They have been helped by Crown Office figures in July, which revealed that while still low, rape convictions rose 50 per cent from 8 per cent of those reported to police in 2006-7, to 12 per cent in 2007-8.
Fife saw a huge increase in reports of rape, up by 35 per cent on the previous year, while incidents in Central Scotland rose by 21 per cent.
However, rape is also the crime most likely to be skewed by historic offences reported for the first time - which means many of the crimes included in the 2009-10 figures may have happened in previous years.
For example, Nicky Jones, whose case we reported yesterday, was raped between 1997 and 2001, but her attacker was not brought to justice until 2007.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "There still remain far too many victims of crime, and we remain committed to taking the action needed to drive crime down further and for the long term.
"We all have a responsibility to provide the police with the information that can help them detect crime - or to prevent crime happening in the first place.
"The police can only help communities become safer places to live if they have the full support of those communities."
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