POLICE chiefs are bracing themselves for a potential surge in reports of crime when Scotland starts to move out of lockdown.

Overall recorded offending plummeted when people were ordered to stay at home in March.

But senior officers suspect some crimes, especially those committed in homes or online, may only come to light when wider public services get back in to full operation.

Teachers, for example, would routinely notice and report concerns about child wellbeing

– but this is hard to do when schools are largely closed.

Officers also fear many older people forced on to cyberspace for the first time by the lockdown may only discover they have fallen victim to online criminals when they are finally reunited with their friends and families.

Police believe the the loosening of stay-at-home restrictions will now see a pent-up demand for investigations.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said yesterday: “We have a concern there will

be a surge of reporting as

lockdown eases.”

Mr Malcolm leads Police Scotland’s response to Covid-18, Operation Talla, and, along with other senior officers, has been rejigging the force to ensure pandemic restrictions are

being followed.

However, speaking in a virtual meeting of the Scottish Police Authority by video link, Mr Graham said officers who handle child welfare, and those who investigate sex and domestic crimes, had not been redeployed.

And he stressed the force’s capacity to investigate cybercrime had been “enhanced”.

Senior officers are concerned about elderly people, in particular, being defrauded on the internet.

This reflects wider concerns that there will be crimes taking place in the private and virtual realms

– often the hardest to tackle

– that are going unnoticed under the lockdown.

Mr Graham said overall demand for police services – and much of what the force deals with is not crime – had fallen in the early period of the Covid-19 restrictions “because of the nature and way people lived their lives”.

He added: “Over the last three weeks more routine demands have been increasing again.

“We are seeing some crimes get back to what might be expected.

“At the moment demand is high.”

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, in his formal report to the SPA, said the official count of domestic abuse cases had been “marginally down” since the lockdown.

He added: ‘However, we consider these figures conceal some suppressedvulnerability and risk.”

Concern over the welfare of some children has been increasing as the lockdown has continued.

In written evidence to MSPs, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Scotland also warned officials to prepare for the lockdown being eased.

It said: “As well as working to ensure victims are being identified and supported during the lockdown, the Scottish Government must start planning for the future, when children start to return to school and have more contact with teachers, health workers and other adults.

“The experience of other countries suggests that, once the stay-at- home measures are eased, there is potential for a significant increase in police reports, referrals, demand for support services and cases going to court.”

As The Herald reported yesterday, calls to domestic abuse help lines have doubled under the lockdown.

Experts have long warned that under Covid-19 restrictions victims of such crimes are less likely to come

into contact with people to whom they can report offenders – and less likely to find refuge or respite from those who might hurt them.

Meanwhile, one of the SPA board members, former senior police officer Tom Halpin, asked if early release of prisoners prompted by the panedemic had impacted crime. Sex offenders and domestic abusers have been excluded.

Mr Graham said: “It has not been wholly without incidents and some intervention has been required.”

The deputy chief constable said he was unable to give further details because cases were live. However, he added: “I think the board and the public can be reassured risk assessments are robust and dynamic.”

Police Scotland is also bracing itself for the challenges of changing rules as the lockdown eases.

Some 215 official complaints about officers have been filed since Operation Talla began, with the most common being “incivility” and failure by officers to maintain social distancing.