Over recent years, every Tom, Dick and Harry involved in the compilation, manipulation and obfuscation of crime statistics have thrown their thistle encrusted ACPO caps in the air to celebrate a steady fall in crime. The Home Office boasted it was all down to its crime prevention efforts. The police hierarchy said it was their intelligence-led approach that was responsible. Academics said rising consumption, falling inequality, better security devices, fewer adolescent males, an upsurge in abortions (with fewer neglected children) and/or a fall in unemployment were at the root of it all. The last Government would have us believe it was a direct result of their strategy to bolster officer numbers and wonderful performance targeting that brought about the miraculous decrease in crime and increase in detections.
But what if it never happened? What if all that research (and all of the political point-scoring which it inspired) is one big misleading lie? What if it was all a pernicious web of deceit involving Senior Politicians and Police Chiefs with the conspiratorial intention of fooling the public into believing that crime was falling and detections were rising year after year?
What if the truth is that crime didn’t fall at all – that it was only the statistics that fell, and in fact the illusion of falling crime was the biggest crime of them all?
"Crime Of The Century", the latest report from The Thin Blue Line argues that there has in fact been an appalling and orchestrated "Cooking of the crime books" for many years. Years of collaborative research and contributions from serving, retired and former police officers confirmed our worst suspicions. Police recorded crime and detections have been wickedly and deliberately manipulated for many years, resulting in millions being paid in performance bonuses to Chief Officers, gross misallocation and direction of fiscal and operational resources and perhaps the worst crime of all, the scurrilous conspiratorial deception of the tax paying public, perpetrated by Chief Officers and previous Home Office ministers that crime fell and detections rose dramatically under their watch.
Even more disturbing is that these "Gaming" practices have occurred with the knowledge and passive acquiescence of the responsible bodies whose duty it is, to manage and regulate policing, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Her Majesties Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC), The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO). Whilst some of the supportive information and evidence is subject either copyright restrictions or legal privilege, the report provides sufficient detail for the reader to grasp the gravity of the scandalous activity and subsequent failure of the regulatory bodies to take the necessary action.
Negative pr would be just one result from exposure of this scandal. This is the most likely motive for the regulatory bodies sweeping the details under the carpet in the hope that the activities will magically disappear. However, by concealing the extent of "gaming" the respective organisations are colluding or aiding and abetting the deception. By failing to act, they are silently condoning the strategies of Chief Officers who are ultimately responsible for these dubious and possibly criminal practices.
In the few instances where "gaming" has been exposed within forces, it has been the rank and file officers, carrying out the strategies of the senior command, who have been held responsible. Senior officers have been adept at applying pressure for results through the management chain down to the front line officers responsible for crime recording and detections. However, when questioned, these Chiefs have plausible prepared answers that they only advocate "ethical practices". The evidence from the front liners is that in practice, the tactics employed do not support the Chief Officers' protestations.
The discussions of sanction detection targets provided some of the best and most worrying examples of the negative effects of the strategies. In addition to diverting effort and resources from the investigation and detection of more serious crime, the pressure to achieve sanction detections is threatening the integrity of officers. On some BCUs officers are adopting practices which could have serious consequences for them if they were to come to light.
The senior officers who exert these production pressures were accused of duplicity by turning a blind eye to such infractions whilst making grand statements in public about the importance of police integrity.
The report opens with a review of "Gaming in public sector statistics" – exploring in some depth the prevalence of the activity as a result of performance targeting. Reference is made to respected research and commissioned articles that explain the subject in greater detail as an overview.
This is followed by section 2 which summarises the work of Dr Rodger Patrick, who served as a Chief Inspector in the West Midlands Police during the introduction of New Public Management and the Performance Management regime which accompanied it 1995 – 2005. Dr Patrick is responsible for conducting what is perhaps the most extensive and conclusive independent research into the practice of Gaming within the police forces of England & Wales. The section details and explains the identified "gaming" practices of "cuffing", "stitching", "nodding" and "skewing".
In section 3 "Police Officers have their say", the report provides actual comment from serving police officers, detailing more precisely how crime statistics and detections are manipulated and fiddled. The polite term is "Housekeeping" but many simply refer to it as "Cooking the books".
Section 4 summarises the official line, drawing extracts from the "Crime statistics in England & Wales" reports.
In section 5 the report explores the administrative changes implemented during the Labour years that dramatically skewed the statistics therefter. The Home Office Counting Rules, National Crime Recording Standard and the National Standard for Incident Recording each contributed to massive distortions of the crime statistics in years subsequent to their introduction, leading the Home Office to concede: "Variation in recording practices had made comparisons between police forces and, indeed, national estimates of the level of crime difficult to measure accurately". The notes that accompany the statistical tables contain the rider: "The National Crime Recording Standard was introduced in April 2002, although some forces adopted NCRS practices before the standard was formally introduced. Figures before and after that date are not directly comparable. The introduction of NCRS led to a rise in recording in 2002/03 and, particularly for violent crime, in the following years as forces continued to improve compliance with the new standard". The effects of these changes (argued to provide the previous Government with an obfuscation tool to assist with their reducing crime spin) are covered in more detail in section 6.
Section 6 "The numbers game" explores the statistical effects of "gaming" by examining recorded crime from 1997 to 2010 and highlighting the offences where manipulation is most prevalent and how the trends and patterns suggest that alternative recording methods are used to manipulate recorded crime and detection numbers. An extract from the section looking at recorded crime by offence 1997 to 2010 follows:-
The key offence groups have been extrapolated from the recorded crime statistics for each of the years from 1997, when the Labour administration began and the most recent complete recorded crime year up to 31st March 2010.
· The largest group of offences by far, is that containing property, Robbery, Burglary, Vehicles, Other Theft, Fraud & Criminal Damage (Volume Crime)
· This set represented 91% of total recorded crime in 1997, dropping to 70% by 2010
· The property group is most susceptible to gaming practices where a significant decline in crime can be represented. For example, the 10% decrease in property crime reported in 2009/10 amounted to 320,807 fewer offences. The total of all crime displayed 364,113 fewer offences, meaning that property crime represented 88% of the total decrease in crime. This illustrates the most likely area where gaming practices would have the most significant impact, by individual force and for the 43 force total.
· The property group is also the most likely to experience “cuffing” unless an insurance claim is involved, where a crime number is often required to validate the claim. However, even this is not insurmountable, as we have experienced many cases where cases are reported as an “incident” but not subsequently elevated to a “crime” so such cases never appear in the statistics. Burglary & vehicle crime are particularly susceptible to these distortive effects.
· Burglary offences where no property is stolen are frequently either not recorded as crimes or downgraded to minor damage (and only where damage is sustained).
· Batching of crimes remains a problem, where for example 20 caravans are broken into on a site and reported as one associated offence unless arrests are made when a crime per victim is generated as this produces an equal number of detections, thus distorting the true picture. This also applies with multiple damage incidents and offences against vehicles.
· Robbery offences involve theft with force. Where a prima facie case of robbery with force is not evident, these are commonly downgraded to other thefts to lessen the seriousness of the position.
· The rise in drug offences as a percentage of total crime from 1% in 1997 to 5% in 2010 is somewhat fallacious, reflective and supportive of officer comments that PND for cannabis possession have a perverse effect on overall crime. In the main, these offences come to light as a result of police activity and are over exploited for the purpose of reflecting improvement in detections.
· The steep decline in property crime as a percentage of overall crime is synonymous with one or more of the gaming activities being present, as this is the largest group and most susceptible for the big hit activities referred to earlier in the report. As outlined, whilst this has the outward appearance of reducing crime, in fact officer time is expended on the higher yield, less important matters at the expense of crime that requires greater effort, time and skill to resolve.
Section 7 briefly touches on the recent introduction of Crime Mapping. Whilst considered a useful tool for public interaction and raising awareness about crime, the report observes that until recorded crime is cleansed of its present impurities, the excellent potential of this facility will be undermined and mistrusted.
In section 8, the report outlines the terms of reference for the National Statisticians review of crime statistics & provides the detailed responses submitted by the Thin Blue Line.
To view the full report in digital format click here, or the link above this article "Enlarge this document in a new window" (when the above link is removed, the report may still be accessed via the "View our reports" section in the side bar to the right of this page). Once the digital report is accessed, the pages may be enlarged reduced and the document downloaded in zip format to your computer should you wish). A pdf version of the report can be uploaded by clicking here or via the View Our Reports section to the right.
For readers familiar with police and criminal justice matters, you may wish to focus on the Executive Summary, the officers comments section, the numbers game effects and submission to the National Statistician.
Officers contributions (anonymously) continue to arrive and are most welcome as these will be encapsulated in a further report in due course.
Crime statistics have sunk to the depths where they are ridiculed, mistrusted and laughable. Frontline police officers have long since tried to raise public awareness about he scurrilous strategies engaged by Chief and Senior Officers in the pursuit of declining crime and increased detection targets.
Home Secretary, Theresa May has clearly recognised the suspicion and doubt that surround crime statistics, by announcing a review led by the national statistician to decide which independent body should have future responsibility for the publication of crime statistics and to oversee the implementation of recommendations last year from the UK Statistics Authority.
To quote her speech in the House of Commons : "I am concerned that our existing measures of crime are confusing and offer the public only a partial picture of the true level of offending. It is in the public interest that we have measures of crime that are clear, meaningful and in which the public can have confidence. While the UK Statistics Authority saw no evidence of political interference in crime statistics published by the Home Office, (perhaps they knew not where to look!) I believe bolder action is needed to more clearly demonstrate their political independence. For that reason, I have decided to move future formal responsibility for the publication of crime statistics to an independent body".
Theresa May has scrapped all performance targets for policing, replacing them with a single measure, to cut crime. To date, many Chief Officers have disobeyed her instruction, (30+ forces still promote the scrapped policing pledge), perhaps in fear that without a yardstick to be measured by, they will be unable to demonstrate how effective their force is. And for those forces where Senior Officer bonuses are still being paid (15%on top of the 100k+ basic salary for Chief Constables, 12.5% for Deputy and Assistant Chiefs, and 10% for middle management) it is likely grounded in the fear of financial loss. It is clear that not until and when crime statistics have been cleansed of its current malaise, will any subsequent successes be treated with respect.
On page 94 of the report, there appears a very damning chart which illustrates most clearly, the pattern that has developed within each of the 43 police forces of England & Wales, becoming increasingly unbelievable over the last six years. Starting with the recorded crime totals for each force from 2003 (the first year where such detailed data was available), it was possible to determine the percentage variance in crime by force year-on-year.
· In 2004 27 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2005 7 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2006 14 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2007 12 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2008 1 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2009 1 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2010 (to March 31st) 1 out of 43 forces experienced an increase in crime
· In 2010 (to September 30th) By now NOT ONE force experienced an increase in crime
· If you were the CEO of a 43 branch company, you would expect to see a variance in performance, between branches, month to month, year on year. Yet, we are expected to swallow the pill that not one force experienced a rise in crime for the year end 30/9/2010?
Looking further back, you will see from the gold boxes in the chart that there is an overwhelming pattern for nearly every force to experience crime decreases, particularly over the latter 4 years. No doubt forces will have a plausible explanation, but we doubt it would stand closer scrutiny.
· The steady decrease in forces experiencing crime increases, arriving at what is presented as a state of “perfection” by September 2010, lends further support to the belief that there has been a large scale manipulation of the statistics through gaming
· The uninterrupted decline of overall recorded crime between 2005 and 2010 as shown in the recorded crime by offence report, is mirrored by the decrease in the number of forces experiencing increases in crime. Whilst this seems an obvious statement, that the number of forces experiencing crime increases has fallen to zero is indicative of large scale gaming and manipulative practices with volume crime which needs to be investigated. Similar discrepencies appear in the report that details detected crime.
Even at 122 pages, the report contains summary information and evidence. Further conclusive evidence supprts the information and data presented which necessitates a thorough and transparent review of the current processes if true public confidence in crime statistics is to return.
Comments and contributions are welcome, anonymously if preferred.
Sunday, 6 March 2011
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