As an ex-police officer, I know crime stats don’t tell whole story – Tom Wood

There’s good news on crime rates but beware the sting in the tail, writes former Deputy Chief Constable Tom Wood.

The latest published crime statistics were good news – overall crime down by an impressive 16 per cent since last year and, within that big picture, further good news that violent crime had reduced with only a tiny minority of us ever falling victim. Remarkably, recorded crime has fallen by over 40 per cent in the last ten years.

Now there’s an important caveat in all this of course and that’s the fact that only reported crime can be recorded and only recorded crime counts.

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Police forces have long recognised the pitfalls of swallowing crime stats whole, the dark figure of unreported crime can be substantial, especially in some catagories of property crime.

Housebreaking can make people afraid in their own home (Picture posed by model: John Devlin)
Housebreaking can make people afraid in their own home (Picture posed by model: John Devlin)

And it’s here that the picture isn’t so rosy for folk in some parts of Edinburgh.

In another set of statistics, by a home insurance website, two areas of Edinburgh feature in the top 20 of hotspots for housebreaking, that’s burglary if you are reading this in England.

West Edinburgh round Blackhall and Craigleith came a highly discreditable fourth place in the whole UK with nearly 50 claims per 1,000 policy holders while coming in at ninth place was East Edinburgh – Duddingston and Portobello.

For one Scottish city to feature twice in the top 20 of UK hotspots is disturbing, let alone for such a serious crime as housebreaking.

In the strictest sense, theft by Housebreaking is a property crime, not considered as serious as violent offences but this belies the enormous psychological harm caused by having the privacy of your home violated.

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The value of stolen property can be calculated in pounds sterling, the hurt and ongoing fear of having the safety of your home breached can be incalculable.

Victims of these crimes will know what I mean.

It was all summed up for me by one elderly victim who told me: “I wish they had attacked me in the street, at least I would have still felt safe in my own house.”

The anguish and the blinding truth of that statement has stayed with me.

But make no mistake – housebreaking can be prevented and detected. Most of these crimes are local, committed by small groups of known criminals who can often carry out multiple break-ins in one night.

Good intelligence and focussed local policing has time and again proven to be successful – it really isn’t rocket science.

But here’s the rub, behind the undoubtedly good news about falling crime lies some inconvenient truths.

Police Scotland is thin on the ground with fewer boots on the streets than at any time in the last decade.

That means that in many parts of Scotland community policing is a shadow as officers run from call to call, never catching up with what they have to do, let alone getting the chance to plan a response even to crimes like housebreaking.

So let’s hope the powers that be don’t see the good news of falling crime rates as a justification for further budget cuts.

There are still huge challenges and if the police are expected to deliver the kind of service we deserve and pay our ever-increasing taxes for, they need to be properly resourced.

The housebreaking victims of Edinburgh will surely agree.

Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable