‘Fewer crimes solved’ despite extra street police

Another crime is investigated but the Reform Scotland think tank says front-line police performance is falling. Picture: John Devlin
Another crime is investigated but the Reform Scotland think tank says front-line police performance is falling. Picture: John Devlin
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POLICE officers are solving fewer crimes as they spend more time carrying out duties previously performed by civilian staff, a new report claims.

Research by the think tank Reform Scotland found the total number of crimes being “cleared up” has fallen from 12 per police officer per year to just eight per police officer in the last seven years – the equivalent of 60,000 fewer crimes being solved a year.

Police must explain why fewer crimes are being solved

Hugh Henry

That is despite the overall number of officers increasing from 16,234 to 17,295 during the same period.

In a report released today, Reform Scotland says the creation of Police Scotland has been less a merger of the country’s eight regional forces and more a “takeover” by Strathclyde.

It said there had been a loss of “localism” under the national force, and called for a return to the old system of funding which split the cost of the police 50/50 between local authorities and the Scottish Government.

The think tank said the number of crimes being cleared up had fallen from 198,985 in 2006/7 to 139,306 in 2013/14 – a drop of 30 per cent.

But the Scottish Government said the clear-up rate had continued to rise and was at its highest since 1976.

Police Scotland said it had delivered savings equivalent to the combined budgets of three of the “legacy” forces while maintaining public confidence.

Reform Scotland’s research director, Alison Payne, said: “The figures speak for themselves. The number of police officers has increased yet fewer crimes are being solved.

“It has been suggested that police officers have to carry out duties previously carried out by civilian staff, which would certainly help explain this situation. After all, it is not just the number of police officers that is important, but how they are deployed.

“As a result we would urge the Scottish Government to review the 1,000 extra officers pledge to ensure that the policy is delivering value for taxpayers’ money. Staff deployment should be an operational as opposed to a 
political decision.”

While the clear-up rate has increased year-on-year, rising to 52 per cent in 2013/14, the falling crime rate means the absolute number of crimes being solved has fallen.

Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “The fact that fewer crimes are being solved in Scotland comes as no surprise. This is yet another consequence of the centralisation of decision-making within Police Scotland where the emphasis has been on, for example, stop and search targets as opposed to solving crime.

“It comes in the wake of the closure of police stations and counters across Scotland.

“Furthermore, as a consequence of making so many crucial administration staff redundant, police officers are regularly backfilling admin posts which leaves even less time for them to undertake their core duties.

“The new statistics are a worrying development and demoralising for rank-and-file officers who are increasingly under pressure to adhere to national priorities instead of dealing with the distinct needs of their local communities.”

Labour justice spokesman Hugh Henry added: “Police Scotland needs to explain why fewer crimes are being solved. Funding problems have led to civilian staff being paid off and their jobs given to trained officers.

“These officers should be solving crimes, not doing the jobs of civilian staff. At some point, the SNP government will need to admit that all is not well at Police Scotland and give us some answers.” Police Scotland was formed in 2013 with the aim of saving £1.1 billion by 2026.

Deputy Chief Constable Neil Richardson said: “This report does not reflect the delivery of modern policing in Scotland in 2015.

“Performance levels have been maintained and public confidence levels have remained high.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “The claims this report makes are wrong. The clear-up rate for all recorded crimes increased by 1 per cent to 52 per cent.”