Former Borders police chief voices concern about figures revealing rise in crime and fall in clear-up rates

Councillor Watson McAteer outside Hawick police station.
Councillor Watson McAteer outside Hawick police station.

Police in the Borders are being urged to raise their game following the release of crime statistics revealing a drop in their clear-up rates.

Police chiefs here revealed that the number of crimes of dishonesty – such as housebreaking, motor vehicle theft and fraud – being committed had increased by more than 30% and that their detection rate for burglary was just 17%.

At a meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s police, fire and rescue and safer communities board on August 30, police also reported that the number of sexual crimes committed in the region had risen by more than a quarter. 

Those figures prompted Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer, a former police chief himself, to seek reassurances at a full council meeting yesterday, September 26.

He asked fellow Hawick and Hermitage councillor George Turnbull, the authority’s executive member for community safety: “With the recently reported April to June 2019 Scottish Borders crime statistics revealing an overall increase of 12%, and with acquisitive crime and thefts by housebreaking contributing with over 30% increases over the same period, can the executive member provide any reassurance to the Borders’ public concerning the safety and security of their property?

“Additionally, with a reported 17% clear-up rate for theft by housebreaking, can he explain what action he has taken on our behalf to ensure that adequate policing resources are addressing a startling 12% drop in performance?”

During quarter one of this financial year, 443 crimes of dishonesty were recorded, up from 339 for the same period last year. 

Between April and June this year, there were 35 housebreakings or attempted burglaries, 26 motor vehicle thefts, 102 instances of shoplifting and 53 cases of fraud. 

That compares with figures of 18, 15, 89 and 26 respectively for last year. 

Mr Turnbull told the chamber: “I’m sure as a former senior police officer, councillor McAteer will know better than most that quarter-one statistics do not give a great indicator of performance, given the time it takes to investigate.

“However, the question relates to the Police Scotland scrutiny committee report presented on August 30.

“As he correctly points out, reports of crimes of this type have increased over quarter one, while detections have fallen.

“In that report, the police allude to a group of organised criminals from other neighbouring divisions. 

“As you’ll be aware, the police have operational independence, and, as I said, quarter one is not a particularly good indication of performance overall.

“Some of these investigations take time to conclude, and the results may not be reflected in the figures during the same period of time as the offence.”

Mr McAteer was unhappy with that response, saying: “I’m well aware of the problems with statistics, but they are used as a measure of performance and we do need to take notice of them.

“In my experience, as you alluded to, a 17% detection rate for housebreaking is not good. 

“My question is really around your role. How do you explain to the people of the Borders that this is going to be an improving situation and what steps will you take to do that?”

Mr Turnbull replied: “I do not get involved in operational matters, but I can reassure councillor McAteer and the public that the scrutiny board, as far as it can, will put pressure on Police Scotland to see an improvement in the figures.”