"Gaming - Cooking the Books" of Crime Statistics
As regular visitors to these pages will know, one of the most contraversial subjects that we have reported on most frequently in depth, is the manipulation of crime statistics and detections. Shortly after her appointment as Home Secretary, Theresa May scrapped the plethora of police performance targets in an effort to free up our police officers to focus on one single objective, what the front line police really want to do, what they do best and what the public want most - simply to cut crime.
The challenge that faces the Home Secretary, the policing minister Nick Herbert and their team, is that confidence and trust in the integrity of recorded crime and police detections is at an all time low. This lack of trust is fuelled by years of political interference, linking crime reduction and detections to senior officer bonus payments and selective focusing by the media. Until this confidence and trust begins to return, any genuine advances in this area will be received with scepticism and suspicion.
We have written at length in previous articles detailing the various tactics within the practice that has become known as "Gaming". Previous articles and reports on the subject can be accessed via the links at the foot of this piece. In summary, we conclude from our dialogue with serving officers from all over the UK, that the practices of statistic manipulation remain evident, perpetrating what we have called the "Crime of the Century" - a pernicious conspiratorial deception in an attempt to fool the public that crime has decreased and detections have risen. Officers of the highest rank appear to have colluded at worst, condoned at best, practices that amount to "Cooking the books" of crime for personal financial or career gain. Politicians have used the statistics to gain political advantage in the most blatant point scoring exercise, all based on the fallacy of falling crime and rising detections.
The review will:
•consider gaps, discrepancies and discontinuities within crime statistics;
•recommend the best future location for the publication of crime statistics, and their associated data collection systems; and
•produce an action plan for the implementation of recommendations from the UK Statistics Authority’s report Overcoming Barriers to Trust in Crime Statistics: England and Wales published in May 2010.
The full terms of reference for the review can be downloaded from this link.
The National Statistician will use the following criteria in evaluating options for the future location of crime statistics. She will look at the impact on:
•public confidence in the statistics;
•quality of the statistics;
•burden on data suppliers;
•cost and efficiency;
•statistical expertise and capability; and
•uses and user needs.
The National Statistician would like to invite comments on this review and has published a news release to this effect which can also be downloaded from this link.
To feed your views into the review please respond using the Word template available for download by clicking here. Please send this form back via email or post:
Crime Statistics Review
National Statistician's Office
The Overcoming Barriers report states:
Most commentators would agree that measuring crime and reporting on crime statistics are inherently difficult. The crime figures for England and Wales, for which the Home Office is responsible, have been subject to many improvements over the years and, in terms of technical quality, they compare well with corresponding statistics for other countries.
However, there continues to be public criticism of the statistics and mistrust in the way that they are used and quoted. As far as we can tell, this exceeds the level of criticism and mistrust in most other countries.
Research and previous reviews have suggested that this mistrust is exacerbated by the nature of some media reporting of the statistics. This may, in part, reflect wider mistrust of official information, not just statistics, but there are factors inherent to crime statistics that may also play a role:
• the existence of two major data sources (police recorded crime figures and the British Crime Survey). Both sources are essential to create a full picture, but their different strengths and weaknesses lead, on occasions, to a degree of public and political confusion and present an opportunity for selective and misleading quotation and reporting
• the difficulty of ensuring consistent recording practice across the 43 territorial police forces and the British Transport Police. The counting and classification of crime after it is reported to the police is a complex process; and changes to the rules and guidelines are necessary from time to time as problems emerge and are resolved, or in order to reflect changes in legislation. This is a proper part of a process of continuous updating and improvement, but it can also generate suspicion and confusion.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Theresa May, in appointing the National Statistician Jil Matheson to review the process, has begun to prize the lid off the "Can of Worms" of crime statistics. The greatest cause for concern is that those who have benefitted most from the orchestrated manipulation of the numbers down the years are adept at disguising their activity or worst, deflecting responsibility downward to the rank and file officers who have been instructed to carry out their strategies.
The absolute facts must be unearthed if true confidence is to be restored. If, as it is believed, some Senior Officers have abused the process and knowingly received bonus payments for crime reduction and detections that have been manipulated, the scandal that will emerge will undoubtedly eclipse that of the MP Expenses saga. If proven to be the case, the consequences are worse, in that it would involve our most senior and previously trusted police officers, who are expected to conduct themselves in the most exemplorary manner. If this is, as we believe the case, the truth must come out if the slate of crime statistics is to be wiped clean and moved forward with honesty and transparency. If senior officers have knowingly perpetrated or condoned such activity, we must ask and answer the tough question: "Are such officers fit to be controlling our police service?"
From all the evidence we have compiled, from serving, former and retired officers all around the country, we have every reason to suspect that Jil Matheson will face resistance to uncovering the absolute truth. We hope that she will demonstrate the courage and determination to expose any improper activity and that the Home Secretary will deal with any transgressions quickly and publicly.
Concern exists over the "regulatory bodies" of the HMIC (Her Majesties Inpector of Constabuary), the IPCC (Indpendent Police Complaints Commission), and the IOC, (Office of the Information Commissioner), all of whom have been aware of the "Gaming" practices prevalent in our police forces, yet have brought no individual or force to account for fear of the further bad "PR" this would undoubtedly create. If the regulatory bodies have indeed failed in the execution of their respective duties, Jil Matheson, Theresa May and all who seek transparent and honest reporting will face an immense challenge.
The majority of this activity, if and when reealed and proven, will be shown to have taken place under the Labour administration, focused as it was with all the pubic sector, on performance targeting accompanied by financial incentives. This is a divisive tactic, open to abuse and manipulation and Theresa May has a limited window of opportunity to expose the activity before the opposition can weaken her argument that this took place on their watch.
A simplistic view is that the proposed introduction of Locally Elected Police and Crime Commissioners may in part, have been born out of a mistrust of the senior officers to exert proper fiscal control over the fiefdoms Nick Herbert is keen to break up. An extension of this line of thought is that perhaps this is partly why policing was not "ring fenced" and protected from the budget cuts the service now faces. Could it be that profligate spending combined with fudged crime statistics have contributed to the belief that the forces can now achieve "more with less?" and that so many officers fear the security of their future?
HAVE YOUR SAY
Here at the Thin Blue Line, we are compiling our own submission to the National Statisticians review. We intend to pull no punches. Coincidentally, we are in the process of compiling our own, in depth report "Crime Of the Century", which will appear on these pages when complete. This will accompany our submission to Jil Matheson.
Rank and file officers are naturally fearful of the consequences of speaking out about strategies imposed on them by their senior officers. We have collated numerous examples of "Cuffing", "Stitching", "Skewing" and "Nodding" in forces all around the country. For the uninitiated, or those who simply need a reminder, we have explained these terms below:
1. ‘Cuffing’ is about making crime seem to disappear by failing to record it. The term ‘cuffing’ derives from the magician’s trick of making something disappear up the cuff of their shirt. This is associated with an ‘evidential’ crime recording standard which places the onus on the victim to establish that a crime has been committed. This allows officers to use their discretion on whether or not to accept the victim’s account and record the crime for investigation. This has a long association with ‘gaming’, as officers are known to use a variety of tactics to prevent the crime ‘appearing on the books’.
2. ‘Stitching’ is the fabrication of evidence. Whilst the use of such tactics to secure convictions at Court has largely been addressed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, administrative procedures still offer the opportunity to obtain detections in circumstances where there is in-sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. These procedures include cautions, informal warnings, and in some circumstances an offence could be recorded as detected without the suspect being made aware of the allegation against them.
3. ‘Skewing’ is about concentrating effort and resources on areas subject to performance indicators. This involves investing less in the investigation of the more difficult and resource intensive areas of police activity, such as the prevention and investigation of serious crime i.e. child abuse and sexual offences. It could also involve the re-deployment of officers to more affluent neighbourhoods where crime is easier to investigate and detect (Patrick 2004).
4. ‘Nodding’ refers to the practice whereby suspects ‘nod’ at locations where they have committed crimes and are able to have them ‘written off’ without any risk of increasing their sentence. The legitimate aims of this administrative procedure is to reduce court time and enable offenders to admit outstanding offences i.e. ‘clean the sheet’ prior to sentencing. This allows the courts to impose a sentence which takes into account the extent of the offender’s criminal activities and alleviates the offender of the fear of being re-apprehended after they have served their sentence for an offence committed prior to incarceration. This administrative procedure has a long history of abuse and appears in two formats; ‘offences taken into consideration (TIC)’ and ‘prison write offs’, which allows offenders to confess to offences post sentence. In these circumstances a senior police officer or member of the Crown Prosecuting Service (CPS) would make the decision to charge on the grounds of whether the individual was likely to receive an increase in their custodial sentence. In both cases the police should have sufficient evidence to charge the suspect if they subsequently decline to accept the offences as TIC or ‘prison write off’. These procedures have long been associated with abuses involving collusion between officers and suspects. The offer of inducements in return for admissions lies at the heart of these illicit exchanges.
Readers are of course free to click the link to the contribution document above and to send it by post or e mail to the addresses supplied. However, there will be many officers who will wish to expose what they believe to be improper practices they have been instructed to implement, but are fearful of exposure and the consequences. (We are only too aware that the police service does not yet protect well intending officers as well as it might). For those officers who wish to contribute anonymously, we would welcome examples that we may include to demonstrate where changes are necessary. These contributions can be made directly to our e mail contact address at the foot of the page, or via anonymous contribution on this or other similar pages.
LET'S PUT THIS WRONG ACTIVITY TO BED ONCE AND FOR ALL.
One final point. No doubt readers will by now have seen and perhaps experimented with the online crime mapping at http://www.police.uk/ Whilst well intended, the site is at its earliest stages of development and we hope it proves to be an invaluable tool to inform the community of instances of crime in their local area. However, until the process of recording and presenting crime statistics earns the reputation for transparency and accuracy; and the integrity, trust and credibility of the data is restored, the jury will remain out on this one.
Our recent articles and reports about crime reporting :-
(hopefully the link label will decribe each article sufficiently).