Chris Marshall: Crime figures are a warning not to cut police numbers

The evidence from elsewhere in the UK is that if you cut police numbers, crime inevitably �rises. Picture: John Devlin
The evidence from elsewhere in the UK is that if you cut police numbers, crime inevitably �rises. Picture: John Devlin
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After years of falling crime rates, violent and sexual offences are once again on the rise, learns Chris Marshall.

Official figures show the overall number of crimes recorded by Police Scotland rose by 1 per cent last year – the first increase in more than a decade.

Sexual crime has been rising for some time, in part due to an increased willingness on the part of victims to come forward, with an incredible 97 per cent increase in recorded offences over the past decade.

But the latest statistics also show a 1 per cent increase in non-sexual crimes of violence, driven by an increase in robbery.

It’s important to keep a sense of perspective: the overall level of recorded crime is still at its second lowest level since 1974, and violent offences have fallen by more than 40 per cent in a decade.

Nevertheless there are signs some long-term trends are bottoming out or even going into reverse.

One of the most worrying figures is the “clear-up rate” which fell marginally to 49.5 per cent, meaning less than half of crime is solved by police.

The evidence from elsewhere in the UK is that if you cut police numbers, crime inevitably ­rises.

In England and Wales, where there have been swingeing cuts to police budgets during the austerity years, violent crime has risen markedly. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 police budgets have reduced and officer numbers have fallen by more than 20,000.

Earlier this year leaked Home Office documents suggested that policing cuts “may have encouraged” violent offenders and likely contributed to rising crime rates.

Broadcast earlier this month, A Dispatches investigation, entitled Where are the Police?, claims that many offences south of the Border are simply not being investigated due to police forces being stretched to breaking point.

The situation in Scotland is considerably better, but officers are under increasing strain.

It’s well documented that around 80 per cent of what the police deal with isn’t actually crime. The biggest demand on their time comes from handling missing person inquiries and responding to those with mental health issues.

Increasingly they’re also having to deal with medical emergencies amid pressure on the other emergency services.

Yet at a time when recorded crime has increased for the first time in over a decade, police numbers are under pressure in a way they haven’t been since the SNP came to power in 2007.

Last year the party dropped a commitment to maintaining an extra 1,000 police (compared to the level it had inherited in 2007) amid pressure from senior police officers struggling to balance the books.

Figures published earlier this year showed the number of police officers in Scotland at its lowest level for nine years in the first quarter of 2018, although the figure has risen slightly since then.

It’s too early to draw a link between falling officer numbers and rising crime rates, but it’s something the government will be all to aware of.

All the evidence from England and Wales shows you cannot continue to cut police numbers and not expect there to be an attendant rise in violent crime.