Kent Police raise concerns over veterans' violent crime
Large numbers of former military personnel could be involved in crime and violent offending, a police survey has suggested.
One police force, Kent Police, arrested 232 ex-service personnel in under three months, 73 for violent offences. Just under 40% of them were unemployed.
Previous research has suggested that one prisoner in 10 is ex-forces.
The Ministry of Defence disputes this, and says a large majority of veterans successfully return to civilian life.
Kent Police began researching how many of its detainees were former service personnel, as part of a pilot to cut offending by veterans.
Officers were surprised to learn almost 80 a month were passing through their cells.
About four in 10 veterans were aged between 18 and 29, although some were Falklands veterans, and others are aged over 60.
Ch Insp Paul Anderson of Kent Police said: "It was probably twice as many as we thought. They are coming in for a whole range of offences.
"About a third are for violent offences but that could be for the lowest level of violent offence."
He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that more detailed analysis - alongside figures from other parts of the country - would be needed before a true picture of the extent of violent offending became clear.
However, the officer added: "There is lots of anecdotal evidence about people 'kicking off' in chip shop queues, [when it is] completely unwarranted."
The force compiled the figures by asking detainees being released from custody to indicate whether they had served in the armed forces.
Police then direct veterans who have offended to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association where they receive support on issues such as housing and substance abuse.
The pilot scheme is planned to continue until the end of the year.
Concerns have previously been raised about the number of former service personnel who are homeless, have problems with addiction or both.
Research published last year by the probation officers' union Napo suggested there are 8,500 veterans in jail, with a further 12,000 on probation or parole.
In a study of 90 ex-forces' personnel on probation or parole, it also found one-in-three suffered from chronic alcohol abuse while one-in 10 abused illegal drugs.
Domestic violence accounted for one-in-three convictions, with other violent crime accounting for around one-in-five.
However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that in January a government study found only 2,200 veterans were in prison in England and Wales, accounting for 3% of the prison population.
A male veteran is four times less likely to be in prison than a man from the general population, says the MoD.
In 1997, the National Audit Office reported that nearly three-quarters of service leavers found the return to civilian life was as easy as they expected, or easier.
Only 6% were unemployed and seeking work after six months, it found.
However, the MoD acknowledges that a "small minority" face serious difficulties.
A spokesperson said: "We are committed to doing everything that we can to help them, providing a range of mental health and welfare support."
This applies both in prison and the civilian community, he said, adding that monitoring revealed "no evidence that current operations are leading to higher numbers of veterans in prison".