Chris Marshall: Contradictions don’t help victims

AS ANYONE who has followed the debate over stop and search will know, the issue of drawing firm conclusions from police statistics can be fraught.

Police statistics can be misleading, as recent issues have highlighted. Picture: John Devlin
Police statistics can be misleading, as recent issues have highlighted. Picture: John Devlin

Figures released by Police Scotland last week showed recorded crime has fallen by almost 5 per cent across the country year-on-year.

But that will provide little consolation for victims of rape (up 5.3 per cent), domestic abuse (up 1.8 per cent) or stalking, an offence which has seen a massive 42 per cent rise in the number of incidents being recorded.

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While much of the rises in these crimes may be down to more people willing to come forward to report them, the same probably cannot be said for housebreaking, up 11.6 per cent in Edinburgh during the past 12 months.

The blame has been laid squarely at the door of Police Scotland, which disbanded dedicated housebreaking teams that existed under Lothian and Borders Police.

That the issue has now become political, feeding into the narrative that a monolithic national force cannot respond to local priorities, means the issue will have probably disappeared by next year as senior officers throw more and more resources at the problem to bring it under control.

But Edinburgh’s crimewave raises a further question about the criminal justice system and our approach to youth offending.

Appearing before the Scottish Police Authority last week, Chief Constable Sir Stephen House said much of the crime was being perpetrated by groups of young people intent of carrying out final “fill your boots” crime sprees before being locked up.

Sir Stephen said there was a “criminal sub culture” in the city which believed housebreaking was “do-able and possible”.

Despite arresting 161 people in recent months, the chief constable said the crime would continue to happen while young offenders were out on the streets.

His frustration at the law’s inability to deal with these young criminals is at odds with the Scottish Government aspiration to reduce the number of those being sent to Polmont Young Offenders Institution.

Since 2006-7, the number of inmates on remand or on sentence at Polmont has fallen from around 1,000 to fewer than 400 currently.

While all the evidence shows that locking up fewer young people helps reduce the number of those becoming career criminals, questions have to be asked about a policy which allows those who are eventually destined for a custodial sentence to roam the streets carrying out further crimes until their day in court.

The impact of that policy is something these latest statistics fail to shed any light on.