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18 December 2015, 12:29
Offences carried out online are likely to increase "significantly'' and could lead to a rise in the volume of recorded crime, a new report has warned.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Derek Penman said while overall crime continues to fall across Scotland, the nature of crime is changing and increasingly taking place online where it can be harder to investigate.
The warning was contained in his annual report for 2014/15, which looked at a number of issues surrounding Police Scotland, which he found to have had "a challenging year''.
While he noted the force's overall performance remains strong, he found "major financial challenges persist'' and morale among officers and staff is mixed.
He also highlighted issues surrounding the commitment to having 1,000 extra officers, saying the increased use of police officers performing backroom tasks is "not sustainable''.
Setting the report in context, Mr Penman noted that reported crime across Scotland remains at a 41-year low, with a 5% reduction since last year.
Crimes of violence decreased by 6%, continuing a downward trend, while crimes of dishonesty, fire-raising and vandalism were also down.
There was an 11% increase in reported sexual crime while the clear-up rate for all recorded crime reached the third-highest level since 1976.
Mr Penman warned: "The nature of crime is changing and increasingly taking place online where it can be more difficult to identify, record and investigate.
"As Police Scotland improves its response to these new and emerging threats, it is likely that volume crimes including fraud and other cyber-enabled offences will increase significantly and impact on the historic reductions in reported crime.''
Mr Penman found that officers and police staff remain strongly committed, in often challenging circumstances, to providing a good service to the communities they serve.
He praised the response to policing challenges posed by major events such as the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, and the force's response to the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy.
But he noted ongoing pressure on staff, including senior officers, is impacting on morale.
"There are concerns that both increasing and changing demands are combining with reduced availability of officers within local policing to impact on the ability to provide an effective service,'' Mr Penman wrote.
He welcomed the Scottish Government's commitment to maintaining an additional 1,000 officers but warned it can only remain effective if the officers continue to perform operational policing roles.
"Through our various inspections, I have observed the reduction in skilled police staff, increases in overtime and increased use of police officers in corporate functions and other settings, including projects,'' he said.
"This is not sustainable in the medium to longer term and there is a need to accelerate the development of a wider workforce strategy that articulates the optimum balance of police officers and police staff needed to deliver the policing of Scotland within a balanced budget.''
Mr Penman called for the SPA and Police Scotland to look at their financial strategy.
He stated: "In terms of sustainability, major financial challenges persist.
"Although Police Scotland has reported that more than £130 million of savings targets have been achieved in the first two years, there remains a need for both the SPA and Police Scotland to be clear about future structures and have accessible transition plans that will deliver sustainable savings.''
Mr Penman also recognised the contribution of former chief constable Sir Stephen House and former SPA chair Vic Emery "in leading policing through an unprecedented level of change''.
They are being succeeded by Phil Gormley and Andrew Flanagan respectively.