Glasgow finds way to beat 'mean streets' image: John Arlidge joins a police beat to sample the atmosphere created by a sharp fall in crime rates

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THE STREETS of Glasgow, renowned for gangland killings, muggings and stabbings, are quiet. As crime in parts of Britain reaches record levels, the number of offences committed in the city, and throughout Strathclyde region, is falling fast.

Last year, recorded crime fell by 10 per cent, as figures being released next week will show. Killings fell by 20, serious assaults by 600, robberies by 1,100, burglaries by 10,000 and almost 4,000 fewer cars were stolen. The only increase was in drugs-related crime. Officers patrolling Glasgow city centre say that the change in atmosphere is striking.

Constable Andy McGuiggan, 34, who is on the beat on Friday and Saturday nights, said: 'The days when we used to nickname pubs 'The Stab' - because we could deal with two or three knifings a night - are passing.'

Explaining the rapid reduction in crime, after almost a decade of steady growth, is difficult. Senior officers point to recent investment in new technology which has helped to put more officers back on the beat.

In the last two years Strathclyde has spent more than pounds 500,000 installing advanced communications systems - voice banks to log crime details and electronic mail to send the information to the prosecuting authorities - which has cut the hours officers spend at a desk or in court. The new technology, coupled with a policy to employ civilians wherever possible, has allowed almost 400 uniformed officers back on the streets.

At the same time, officers say, high-profile crime prevention campaigns have helped to win the support of the public in the battle against certain types of offence. Last February, Leslie Sharp, Chief Constable of Strathclyde, launched Operation Blade, an amnesty designed to stamp out Glasgow's 'knife culture'. More than 4,500 knives have been surrendered at police stations and crime involving knives has declined by more than a third.

Similar campaigns against house-breaking, car crime and guns, using paid informants and imaginative 'traps', have led to reductions of up to 27 per cent in each category.

Superintendent Angus Kennedy said: 'We are using all the tricks we can think of to get the message across to the criminals and the public that we are serious about fighting crime. We have a clear vision of the future - more bobbies on the beat backed up by the very latest technology and supported by the public . . . the approach seems to be working.'

Officers concede the recent success in reducing crime has made patrolling the streets 'boring' but insist that the quieter it is, the more satisfied they are. Constable Lewis Fulton, 27, said: 'If we are just pulling in a few prostitutes and some guys who have been 'noising up' some other blokes, that means we are doing our job well. It's a good feeling.'

Strathclyde has been so successful at cutting crime that some now caution against complacency. 'There has always been a streak of violence in the people of the west of Scotland and it is still there,' Supt Kennedy said. 'What has happened is that we have become more astute at controlling its effects and in getting the community on our side. We have to continue to police in ever more imaginative ways to stay ahead.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- CRIME RATES 1993 (percentage change) ----------------------------------------------------------------- Strathclyde W Yorks Merseyside W Midlands Northumbria Homicide -30 -18 -24 -21 +14 Serious assault -14 -4 +4 -5 -4 Robbery -25 +19 +8 +19 +14 Burglary -18 +12 -1 +1 -2 Vehicle theft -15 +9 +4 +5 +3 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Figures for period January-October -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)