Changing crime patterns

Changes in crime patterns had always influenced police strategy and deployment. The common crimes such as theft, housebreaking, assault and breach of the peace endured, but trends and modus operandi might vary. Crime in East Lothian continued with type and pattern generally reflecting regional and national crime trends.

Nevertheless, one of the more unique and persistent crimes in the county was the poaching of salmon and sea trout from the River Tyne and its estuary. Many accomplished poachers carried on a successful trade that comfortably sustained the overheads of an occasional fine when caught. All in all, the general public were not too concerned if ‘a few fish’ were poached. Indeed, they often benefited from the black-market prices of this apparently victimless crime. The only people to be truly concerned at the scale of the problem were the water bailiffs and landowners, and there was never usually much public sympathy for their interests. The police gave the matter some attention, but they too often thought that poaching was a lesser evil than other crimes. Theft and housebreaking might have spiralled, increasing the crime figures and drawing reproach, had there not been such a profitable night’s catch coming from the Tyne. The village policeman could co-exist with the poacher, provided a balance of rural activity prevailed.

Latterly, new types of crime emerged; shoplifting appeared with the proliferation of self-service shops; fraud increased with the spread of easy credit and plastic money; and the increase in personal possessions such as televisions, videos, computers and mobile phones made the ordinary householder a target for thieves and housebreakers.

The biggest problem at the end of the period was drug-related crime. Drug abuse, once the scourge only of big cities, had reached into all sections of society spawning a drug-dependent, ‘desperado’ breed of criminal. But there was also an increase in counter-measures, such as improved security, domestic burglar alarms, neighbourhood watch and other crime prevention measures that helped to control rising crime even before the impact of modern policing methods (the UBP and associated improvements in mobility and communication).

Despite the fact that the police service always adapted to changing crime trends, it is perhaps more significant to consider that, by 2000, the profile of policing in East Lothian owed more to other changes in society than to the effects of crime.

Impact of Social Change

While the changing role of women in society had already impacted on the work of the village constable, it was not until 1975 that the police service took on board the Sex Discrimination Act, and offered equal pay and opportunities for women police officers. Initially, progress towards equality was slow. Attitudes within the police service had been tempered, for years, by chivalrous ideals and chauvinistic prejudices that could not change overnight. However, within a decade, the equality of women in society was largely an accepted feature.

Improved working conditions led to changes in police regulations that defined a tour of duty as a single period of eight hours in any, one, day. Police officers were no longer expected to occupy the type of police station house where they, and more importantly their families, could endure the disturbance of callers at any time of the day or night.

The profile of village life had also changed; formerly self-contained communities, most villages now offered dormitory accommodation to residents who owned cars, commuted elsewhere to work, and who shopped at out-of-town retail parks.