Monday, 28 February 2011

CRIME IS DOWN ..... OR IS IT? - PART 4 - THIN BLUE LINE RESPONSE TO THE NATIONAL STATISTICIANS REVIEW OF CRIME STATISTICS


"To be persuaded crime is going down, look at the Government figures.
To be persuaded it is not, look out of the window"

The Thin Blue Line response to the
National Statisticians Review of Crime Statistics

Q1: Responsibility for the publication of crime statistics is to be moved out of the Home Office. Who should now assume this responsibility to increase public trust in the crime statistics?

The Home Secretary is to be commended for identifying an opportunity to increase public trust in crime statistics. This is absolutely crucial if any real success in pursuit of the single target to cut crime is to be taken seriously and afforded any credibility.

However, before deciding who is best positioned to help increase public trust in crime statistics, no stone must be left unturned in getting to the root of how and why trust has become eroded in the first place. Without the essential painful steps to arrive at the heart of the matter, any efforts in this direction are liable to face the same scepticism and doubt about the motives of the Government.

Before committing the undoubted millions in financial resources, the Government must transparently deal with the causes that led and continue to feed the lack of confidence. Mistakenly focusing on the effects of such a lack will place them in no better position than their predecessors, and any action they DO take will be undermined by political and media agendas.

The integrity and reputation of crime statistics and detections has been damaged almost beyond repair. To do anything other than truthfully reveal what has gone wrong will be nothing short of a whitewash and such actions and obfuscations have contributed to the present malaise.

“Overcoming Barriers” and other reviews into crime statistics arrive at some useful observations and conclusions. At our pages on http://thinbluelineuk.blogspot.com we have conducted our own in depth analysis of crime statistics over recent years in the form of twenty articles and reports into the subject. We are presently compiling our most in depth analysis of crime statistics to date, containing evidence not previously available or published that reflects the pervading problem of Gaming and the distorting effect it has had on statistics, in particular throughout the years of the Labour administration, which will be presented to the Home Office when completed. There are we believe a number of key factors sapping public and commentator confidence that must be addressed before the subject of responsibility for publication of the statistics can be considered:-

• The very real endemic problem of “Gaming”, in the form of “Stitching”, “Skewing” Nodding” and “Cuffing” must be thoroughly and openly investigated and the results exposed. Each element has its own dramatic distorting effect on the integrity of recorded crime. Rank and file officers from all forces report that the practices remain widespread, despite the introduction of the HOCR, NCRS and NSIR. Performance targeting and financial incentives in the form of senior officer bonuses have corrupted the previous integrity of the data. The examples of how crime recording is perverted and manipulated to convey the impression of falling crime are many, particularly in regard to volume crimes such as theft related incidents involving vehicles, criminal damage and burglary. (One simple example: twenty vehicles are attacked in a car park, with twenty victims. It is commonplace for all twenty to be given the same crime reference number, so that only one offence is recorded. If suspects are detained, there would be twenty theft reports and twenty detections, hence improving the detection performance. The examples we have collated are too numerous to mention here.

• The regulatory bodies of HMIC, IPPC and the IOC have been fully aware of the corruptive influence of Gaming, but all have failed in the execution of their responsibilities and duty to expose the full extent of the problem to the public, evidenced by the lack of any individual or force being brought to account for the activities.

• The continued existence of two sources of data, the BCS and recorded crime, with their inherent weaknesses have led to a mass of confusion and continued opportunities for media and political misrepresentation. The merits of both are understood and appreciated. However the fact remains that the BCS is a survey based on estimates drawn from a small representative element of society and has too many exclusions. Despite the sound intent to arrive at the bigger picture and the significant effort and integrity involved in the collection of data, as a comparison tool, it is of little value. Recorded crime suffers from a number of flaws, massive under reporting, excessive complexity and most serious, the gross misrepresentations resulting from Gaming.

• It is staggering that despite all the analytical and statistical expertise that the previous Home Office Ministers have had at their disposal, that there has been no satisfactory explanation of the effects of the HOCR, NCRS and NSIR changes to the data collection and presentation. Again, whilst the reasons for their introduction can be appreciated, it cannot be acceptable that crime statistics, which have such a vital influence over such important matters as operational decision making in policing, have remained corrupted and incomparable year to year. As the Smith review concluded, such changes to vital statistical series should be better managed. The solution would seem to be to invest the time and resources to equalising the data from the years the changes were introduced.

• The biggest mistake this Government could make in this area, would be to repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. Many saw the HOCR, NCRS introduction as a political opportunity exploited by Labour to muddy the waters of crime, and thenceforth be able to present statistics that reflected reductions under their watch. Any consideration to appointing an “Independent Crime Recording Agency” must be preceded by honest transparent opening of the present books, as an insolvency agent would do when conducting the administration of a business. Only when all of the facts and truths are revealed, will there be a possibility of rebuilding and regaining confidence. To do otherwise would be to build on the existing weak and untrusted foundations.

• If two subsets of data are to continue, their respective values will not increase until they are comparable, with identical offences and offence groups.

• Many of the reasons for under reporting by the public have been well publicised. Yet, little has been done in practice to improve matters. Each of the key factors for non-reporting must be thoroughly examined and all solutions that encourage inter action by the public and victims of crime considered. A total crime picture is unattainable, but far more can be done to arrive at a more accurate reflection of the true nature and extent of crime. The expression that comes to mind is “How can you expect to hit a target you can’t even see?”

• Crime mapping is an excellent means of improving communication about crime on a localised basis to the community. However, whilst the current recorded crime data collection process remains unsatisfactory, this will worsen rather than improve public perception of crime.

• To a large extent, the biggest problem lies with the supervisory strategies employed by senior officers. To this extent, performance targeting must be forcibly extinguished. The fact that over 30 of the 43 forces have retained performance targets scrapped by Theresa May is an indication of size and nature of the problem. Whilst this is allowed to continue, it will have a perverse and divisive effect on the integrity of recorded crime. A return to the simplified and universal recording processes will greatly assist matters.

The views and conclusions conveyed here are condensed versions of those we have expressed on our site and in our reports. We will forward a copy of our detailed report in due course. A thorough review of crime statistics is clearly overdue and essential. The collection and presentation of the data should be in the hands of a totally non-political independent body such as the ONS. Value for money would be delivered as only through such independence, and assured data integrity for the future will the twin benefits of better financial and human resource allocation and a slow return of public and media confidence be enjoyed. Independent and detailed (without pre warnings) audits will be essential if the rot that currently exists within the process is to be eliminated and future integrity maintained.


Q2: Is there also a case for transferring responsibility for the management and/or compilation of data collected from the British Crime Survey and the police ? If so, where

The temptation for the Government might be to create an “Independent Crime Recording Agency”. Whilst excellent in principle, for reasons outlined in Q1, the integrity of the source data must be absolutely above reproach to avoid any subsequent slide back into the “Lies, lies and damn statistics”* accusations. (*Benjamin Disraeli)

Whether an independently funded organisation (risking the “Quango” criticisms) or remaining with the Home Office, the principle of Garbage In = Garbage Out will pervade until transparent and honest steps have been taken to clean up the data.

It seems most logical and sensible that the ONS should assume responsibility for the compilation of the recorded crime set. The BCS responsibility should remain with the Home Office to optimise the expertise and resources presently available.

The issue here revolves around trust and the lack of it from a public perspective. Until this issue is faced, openly and honestly – “head-on”, I suspect that doubt and scepticism will continue. Even if this involves controversial exposure of historic details with all that brings, crime statistics are too important to be allowed to fester in a sea of distrust.

Crime statistics should be the epitome of transparency and honesty, with good news or bad, so that the correct remedial action and police/judicial focus and deployment can be made.

The expression “Doing the thing right –vs Doing the right thing” springs to mid. There is a world of difference when applied to crime statistics. All participants of the judicial process may well be doing the thing they do right, but if their focus is misdirected due to inaccurate, mismanaged or worse, manipulated data (Gaming), then their efforts are devalued through doing the ‘wrong thing’ right.

Q3: Currently, the Home Secretary determines what is recorded by the police as a crime and approves the Home Office Counting Rules for crime and statutory data requirements from the police. Should this continue or would public trust in the statistics be enhanced if this responsibility moved elsewhere? If so, where and why?

This presents an opportunity for the Government and the Ministry of Justice to “Join Up Justice” by utilising the experience and knowledge of the judiciary to ensure crime recording is more compatible with the MOJ recording processes.

The current “Flows Through Justice” charts are useful but could be infinitely moreso if directly correlated to the offences to which they relate.

At present, the HOCR are excessively complicated for public consumption and require a dramatic simplification.

Whilst there is no independent body overseeing the Home Office determinations for application of the HOCR, there will always be the suspicion that the Home Office have exerted political interference with policing statistics to project a particular picture of crime. The Home Office have significant expertise in this area, as do naturally, the police. However, an independent body, suitably qualified from the judiciary with the vision to deliver a transparent joined up justice picture would inspire greater confidence.

Q4: The Terms of Reference for the review asks for consideration of the current definitions of crime. Do you have any comments?
 
The current definitions of crime would seem to be adequate for their purposes. The problem lies in the number of notifiable offences that exist. Perhaps if some multiple definitions could be combined this would reduce the statistical burden. It may complicate the legal definitions slightly, but this would be a small price to pay provided the definitions were not adjusted in such a way so as to compromise the ends of justice.

Q5: It has been said that the crime statistics provide a partial picture. What, if any, are the main gaps in Home Office crime statistics that you feel should be addressed as a priority

Transparency and honesty. Making no apologies for repeating the concerns here. The yawning gap that has existed for a number of years now, has been the non-addressed problem of gaming within the service. Whatever the extent and causes, until this is rooted out completely and the system made “Game Proof” (Bevan & Hood 2006), there will never be a more complete picture. over the coming days.


This review and action that may follow represents the perfect opportunity for reform and the Coalition should grasp it firmly.

The temptation to practice Gaming when producing and delivering performance management data including crime statistics on recorded crime and detections, could be removed by either making the targets less specific or by making the monitoring process more ambiguous and spontaneous. The HMIC thematic inspections are a step in the right direction, however we would maintain that this should be a more regular and unannounced practice with independent representation.

The ‘dark figure’ of crime as it is known – the mismatch between crime estimates produced by victimisation surveys and those recorded by the police – is a well-known concept in the most elementary criminology. Much has been written about the ‘reporting’ shortfall; why victims of crime do not report their experiences to the police. By comparison, the ‘recording’ shortfall is under-researched, and widely misunderstood. The shortfall is further exacerbated by “Cuffing” and other practices to under record or fail to record crime.

The ‘dark figure’ of crime is an argument that will not fade until the focus is shifted toward statistics that can be relied upon more consistently. There is a strong case for abandoning the British Crime Survey which, as well as being an expensive luxury in times of fiscal constraint, serves to highlight the gap between recorded and actual crime, yet offers no realistic and acceptable solution.

Why do we need the entirety of BCS? It tells us that crime levels are higher than those reported to the police, which is a fact that is widely known anyway. Whilst public opinion, experience and perceptions of crime are useful barometers of public concern and opinion and we would not advocate dispensing with this element, we must question the statistical element that mischievously competes with recorded crime. If the concern lies with the accuracy of recorded crime, then surely the focus should be on implementing measures and safeguards that improve the recorded crime system, not continue with a system that only serves to deplete public confidence year after year. A survey, no matter how well conducted remains just that, a survey of opinion, not fact. Strip it down, reduce the costs associated with it and remove one of the greatest barriers of all, to public trust in crime statistics.

Perhaps then, with an improved and properly regulated recorded crime system, the gap will diminish and we will return to a situation where the public can confidently rely upon police recorded crime.

Q6: What are the most important considerations for trustworthy crime statistics?

Transparency, honesty and currency.


The figures presented must instil faith in the public that they are of the highest integrity. Currently, the statistics fail this test.

Opening the recorded crime books to the public in the form of crime mapping is an excellent first step. However, until the recorded crime act is cleaned up, the success of such ventures are compromised.

Historic data is useful only to identify trends on a local and national level, to establish which areas of crime have been successfully addressed.

This enables the appropriate allocation of fiscal and human resources to the current crime position. We would repeat the earlier statement… It is all about doing the right thing as opposed to doing the thing right. A police team focused on crime patterns that have long since disappeared may well be doing the job right, but they should be focused on the crime that is causing most public concern, backed up by current recorded crime incidents.

At present, the police focus is misdirected. Despite the Home Secretary’s instruction to scrap all targets but cutting crime, Chief Officers have, in the large majority, failed to comply, fearful perhaps that without a yardstick to be measured by, they will not be seen as effective. Current crime statistics, centered around those offences that cause most current public concern are where the police focus should be directed, not toward the “Big Win” detection activities that cause so much public disaffection and distrust. It is a fact that the police activity of recent years has criminalised more people who are less deserving of police attention. The focus should remain with those key offence groups of violence, sexual offences, property etc. Protection of life and property, prevention and detection of crime (real crime, not playground disputes that have escalated out of hand and have demanded police attention. Return our police officers to what they joined up for. No more, no less.

Q7: What do you consider to be the main strengths of crime statistics?
 
Current, transparent, honestly recorded crime statistics are an essential component in allocating the true fiscal and human resources required for policing, both locally and on a national level.  Used sensibly and with sound management, crime statistics should underpin and focus police activity.
 
Q8: Do you have any other views you wish to feed into this review?
 
We have completed twenty or so articles and analytical reports centered around crime statistics over the last two years, consulting with rank and file police officers, Home Office statisticians, referring to respected public domain publications to form a broad and overall view of the subject. Coincidentally, we are near to completing a detailed analysis of crime statistics “Crime of the Century” that will be connected by hyperlink to our site http://thinbluelineuk.blogspot.com

Visit http://bankbabble.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/crime-figures/ for an excellent an excellent perspective of the statistics fiasco! With thanks also to Dickiebo http://dickiebo.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/crime-%e2%80%93-and-the-lies/ for the mention and http://allcoppedout.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/bent-crime-figures-in-perspective well worth a visit.

5 comments:

Crime Analyst said...

Posted from Police Connect Group on Linked in

I began my career on patrol in the South Bronx in 1997. At that time, in order to make a grand larceny auto arrest, you had to arrest the person within 24 hours of the car being reported stolen. If you missed the deadline, then the perp was charged with unauthorized use. Needless to say, the recorded GLAs plummeted.
Posted by William J. Hamilton

Crime Analyst said...

Posted from Police Connect Group on Linked in

I don't believe crime has fallen, but that's my opinion. I think it just gets recorded in different ways - or maybe not at all, if you believe everything you read in the press. Try telling shopkeepers and petrol station owners that crime is down and see what response you get.
Posted by Henry Allcock

Crime Analyst said...

Posted from Former Police Officers in Business on linked in ...

No, I don't believe that it is. I believe that people don't bother because they see little point in reporting the 'less serious' offences - but of course, this seriousness doesn't take into account the impact 'low level offending' has on victimes. In addition, officers are actively not recording crimes when people do report them - I have witnessed for myself.
Posted by Ashley Wilce

Bent Society said...

This academic guy (I know him. He's OK) recons the Internet could possibly (he’s not sure) be responsible for the 15 year crime drop: http://www.bestthinking.com/thinkers/science/social_sciences/sociology/mike-sutton

His paper on Zombie Cops and Voodoo Criminology is a must for all mythbusters
http://www.bestthinking.com/articles/science/social_sciences/sociology/the-problem-of-zombie-cops-in-voodoo-criminology-a-27-year-old-myth-about-beat-patrol-policing-is-busted

Thin Blue Line said...

I know that all these things does matter for Nation but we must have some more effort on our hand to get resolution.

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