Covid in Scotland: What impact has lockdown had on crime?
By Paul O’Hare
Police officers in Scotland dealt with far fewer violent crimes, housebreakings and road casualties while the country was in lockdown, according to new statistics.
However Police Scotland’s latest quarterly report shows there was an increased number of domestic abuse incidents, online child sexual offences and frauds between April and June.
Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor described the months as “an extraordinary period for Scotland and, indeed, the world.” Here are some of the key points from the report.
Between April and June 13,898 violent crimes were recorded by Police Scotland – 15.9% less than the same quarter last year.
While most offences in the category have decreased the report highlights two main exceptions: robberies and common assault of emergency workers.
Despite the lockdown, there were 429 robberies recorded during the first quarter, 41 more than last year.
The report notes: “Some of the increase in robberies is assessed to be due to the closure of shops denying opportunities to shoplift. This has led to some offenders escalating their criminality.
“Intelligence has also indicated that the lockdown has impacted on the supply of drugs and that some robberies may be connected to paying drugs debts.”
While common assaults decreased by 15.7%, common assaults of emergency workers rose by 11.2%, with 2,147 crimes recorded during the period.
The force says it is undertaking further analysis to establish if interactions with the public during the Covid response have been a contributory factor.
Sexual crime and rape
The figures for overall sexual crime show notable decreases in the number of recent crimes (down 12.1%) and non-recent crimes (down 24.1%).
Police expect reporting levels to increase following the easing of lockdown measures.
The number of rapes recorded between April and June was 454 – 22% less than for the same three-month period last year.
The reports said: “The main contributory factor for the reduction in reported crimes will have been as a consequence of physical distancing measures and hospitality related premises closures that has impacted on the level of social interaction between perpetrators and potential victims.”
Child sexual abuse online
Child sexual abuse online is one of the biggest challenges facing the force, due to the sheer volume of cases and the global nature of the crime.
Figures for the first quarter reveal 530 cases, up 21% on last year.
The reports said: “An increase in these types of crimes was anticipated during the lockdown period as perpetrators of these crimes would have more time to have an online presence as would potential victims.”
Police and charities had warned that more people may find themselves being victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown period.
This fear has been reflected in the statistics with 17,244 incidents (up 8.8%) reported in the first quarter of 2020/21.
The report notes: “Initially, there was a very slight decrease in reports of incidents of domestic abuse but as lockdown progressed and then eased, calls began to increase.”
Police recorded a significant increase in drugs being sent through the postal system, especially in the north of Scotland.
Partnership working with Royal Mail resulted in around 20% of drugs possession crimes being linked to postal deliveries.
The report notes independent analysis suggests that dark web drug supply has increased by over 500% in the UK during the pandemic.
Last year the number of drug-related deaths in Scotland soared to 1,187, higher than that reported for any other EU country.
The quarterly report identifies a significant increase in suspected drugs-related deaths during May 2020, most notable in the east of the country.
Suspected drug-related deaths during June are also “significantly higher” than those recorded in June 2019.
Less traffic on Scotland’s roads has resulted in a dramatic fall in the number of people killed (14, down 66.7%) and seriously injured (216, down 48.3%).
Speeding and mobile phone offences also plummeted.
But the report reveals drink and drug driving offences increased by 672 (up 44%), while the number reported for dangerous driving rose by 141 (up 17.6%).
Protests and counter-protests linked to the Black Lives Matter movement have led to reports of hate crimes
The number of hate crimes and incidents both increased by about 5% during the first quarter of the year.
The force described offences linked to Covid-19 as “limited and sporadic”.
But the report added: “On-going protests and counter demonstrations, particularly those linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, have resulted in incidents including verbal abuse, vandalism, comments posted on social media and offensive posts/banners/signs which have contributed to the increase.”
It also noted the lockdown and perceptions of restrictions being flouted have created problems in communities.
It adds: “A significant number of hate crimes relate to neighbour disputes many of which likely result from heightened tensions stemming from the pandemic situation.”
This is one area where there has been a dramatic increase, with 131,688 reports (up 52.4%).
The report explained: “This is predominantly linked to public nuisance calls in relation to non-compliance with the Covid-19 regulations.”
With more people spending time at home there has been an rise in noise complaints and neighbour disputes in relation to potential breaches of the virus legislation and guidance.
While 3,554 fewer shoplifting crimes were committed in the first quarter (down 42.3%), opportunistic criminals started to focus their efforts on bicycles.
As a result the number of thefts shot up by 334 (26.9%).
ousebreakings decreased over the period with 27.2% less crimes (449) than the same period last year.
The report said: “With lockdown restrictions in place, homes were less likely to be left unattended leaving them less desirable to criminals.”
Fraud has rocketed by 54.2% on last year as criminals exploit factors such as the expanded reliance on technology during lockdown.
Scams detected in Scotland include the purchase of PPE that hasn’t materialised; individuals going door-to-door offering services to people shielding; and suspicious local authority business grant applications.
In Scotland 26 of the 32 local authorities have reported that they have received 513 suspected fraudulent applications for UK government grants.
Although the report provides a snapshot of the early stages of the life under lockdown, it notes: “The true impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on crime and offence levels in Scotland may not be known for some time.”
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