Today offers an important opportunity to discuss and debate community safety and the challenge that antisocial behaviour presents to community security and well-being. Four years ago, we pledged to build safer and stronger communities—building on the experience that we had all shared as MSPs in the first session of Parliament—and to put tackling antisocial behaviour at the top of our agenda. We listened to the people of Scotland, who made it clear that improving community safety and tackling antisocial behaviour were what they wanted from us and expected us to deliver on.
I start by putting some things in perspective. Crime in Scotland is falling. Last year, 20,000 fewer crimes were recorded by the police; housebreaking was at around half its 1997 level; and robberies were at their lowest level for 30 years. Scotland is becoming a less violent place. With 1,000 fewer victims of serious violent crime last year, violent crime is at its lowest level since devolution. Homicides are their lowest level for 15 years.
We are seeking to tackle long-standing social problems such as knife carrying, and more than 12,500 weapons were taken off the streets during our first national amnesty. Record numbers of police officers are helping to prevent and detect crime; there are nearly 1,500 more officers now than there were seven years ago. The police and other agencies are using new powers and resources to help people stand up to antisocial behaviour.
We are taking assets seized from criminals and reinvesting them in our communities; £2 million has been invested this year in areas hard hit by serious violent crime. Much-needed reforms in our courts are working for victims, witnesses and jurors. There were fewer adjourned cases; less time was wasted in courts; and more than 16,000 fewer witness appearances were needed for the most serious cases.
It is important to acknowledge such progress as we acknowledge the further challenges that we face. The message from that progress is that we do not need to feel hopelessness in the face of crime in our communities: there are things that we can do, and it is possible to turn things around. The view that problems are with us and we must
Before moving the Executive's motion this afternoon, I will highlight in more detail the substantial progress that we have made in delivering on our pledges. I will also talk about the future and about what more needs to be done.
Investment in the police service in Scotland is at a record level. Since 2003, we have increased annual funding by £156.5 million to £1.1 billion in 2006-07. Police officer numbers rose to a record level at the end of 2006. Those police officers are making a valuable contribution to making our streets and communities safer.