Monday, 31 January 2011

CRIME IS DOWN ..... OR IS IT? - PART 2 - Lies, damned lies and fudged crime statistics


Lies, damned lies and fudged crime statistics



The problem with crime is that it’s illegal. This means it’s secret, which means that there is not one person at any level of the criminal justice system in this country who can honestly declare that they really know what’s happening.

Over recent years, every Tom, Dick and Harry involved in the compilation, manipulation and obfuscation of crime statistics have thrown their hats and helmets 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 everything in the garden was rosy? 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?

There are two sources of crime statistics in this country. The first is the police whose figures are deeply unreliable because they deal only with the crime which they record. Millions of crimes each year are never reported to them at all: victims of assaults and sex attacks (particularly children) are often too fearful; the stores who are the victims of shoplifting often discover the offence only in their stock-taking and then prefer not to advertise their vulnerability; and a mass of victims of minor crime simply do not bother to contact a system which offers them only a faint prospect of justice.

More importantly, even if crime is reported, it is frequently not recorded because the police have a long and skillful history of fiddling the figures. They call it ‘cuffing’, because the reported offences magically disappear up the officer’s sleeve. On a wider scale, the deception is known as “Gaming” and there are a number of tricks that Senior Officers (who would no doubt deny their existence) employ to satisfy their police authorities and political masters. Make no mistake, this is not a few officers or even forces engaging in some kind of occasional sport. The alarming reality is that “Gaming” (as confirmed by front line officers) is endemic and widespread throughout the police forces of England and Wales.

In July 2000, HM Inspector of Constabulary reported that in eleven forces which his staff had inspected, 24%) reported crimes had been mis-recorded, either through genuine confusion or deliberate concealment. At the end of that year, the Labour politicians celebrated a fall in the crime recorded by police nationally of 122,344 offences. Taking it further, if HMI’s snapshot were repeated across the country, then in that same year, police forces concealed or mis-recorded 1,635,424 offences – more than 13 times the number of “alleged” fewer offences recorded. In other words, for years, the fudged police statistics have been not just slightly misleading but wholly worthless as a statement of what is really happening.

In April 2002, the Home Office introduced NCRS, the National Crime Recording Standard, supposedly to tighten up the process. They rejected HMI’s strong advice to make the rules legally binding and to order ‘robust and independent audits’ of police practice. Instead, they relied on dip-sampling by the Audit Commission and internal checks, enforced by chief officers – even though past scandals indicated the collusion of chief officers in delivering false figures. In the foggy aftermath of the NCRS and other statistically challenged changes prior to that, it is not clear whether the NCRS rules are killing off or even reducing the cuffing, but the Home Office discounted 5% of the reported crime in years that followed it on the basis that police were indeed obeying them.

More recent evidence from front line officers confirms that the "Gaming" practices are as rife as ever in modern policing. This is perhaps what prompted Home Secretary Theresa May to appoint the National Statistician to conduct a full review of the recording processes. Let us hope that the deceitful conduct of the few over the years is finally brought to the surface so the honourable police officers can start afresh with a clean slate.

Theresa May has replaced the plethora of nonsense performance targets with one single focus, to reduce crime. In order that this can be measured accurately with figures that can be trusted going forward, the whole rotten, shoddy corrupt system must be exposed for the sham that it is. It is a pityful display of arrogance by those Chief Officers who have disobeyed her instruction and to this day, implement strategies based on targets they believe will justify their existence.

The really sad part of all of this, is that when the can of worms is finally prized open, it is unlikely that Chief Officers will admit they have condoned and encouraged deceitful practices all along (many have received up to 15% bonus payments on top of their handsome six figure salaries for doing so). No, the likely scapegoats will be the very front line federated ranks forced to implement their devisive and corrupt plans. Little wonder so few rank and file officers are prepared to speak out.

The second source of crime statistics is the British Crime Survey. This is fundamentally flawed because it cannot record crime unless a victim tells one of their interviewers about it, so the survey misses all crimes where the victim decides not to disclose details. Until recently crimes against children (estimated by the Home Office at 600,000), all crimes against commercial victims (all bank robbery; and all shoplifting, which is estimated at anywhere between 7.7 million and 30 million offences a year), were omitted from the survey. Perhaps the biggest criticism of the BCS is that it is based on estimates drawn from the survey of 45,000 citizens. Crimes against public sector property (arson, criminal damage, theft) and all murder offences have been or remain omitted from the survey.

So, the survey fails to record at least 11.3 million crimes and possibly as many as 33.6 million crimes, in addition to the 13 million which it does pick up. And that is without taking account of commercial fraud, which the Association of British Insurers blames for a third of the £35 billion annual cost of all crime.

Let us take a step back and examine the fall in crime figures. Two important clues jump out at us to support the belief that the books have been well and truly “cooked”. First, it has happened all across the developed world. Jock Young, formerly professor of criminology at Middlesex University, likes to tell the story of the American crime conference which he attended a few years ago where the opening speakers armed themselves with a stage full of multi-coloured graphs and flow charts and announced that they had explained the dramatic drop in US crime rates. It was the effect of the Brady Bill in cutting ownership of handguns, plus the peaking of the market in crack cocaine, plus a dip in the population of adolescent males, plus a little of this and a little of that. All the percentages added up – until a delegate from Spain stood up to say that they had the same fall in crime numbers in her country and none of those explanations, and then a delegate from Canada said the same, and so on around the globe.

Second, this fall has happened at the same time as every developed country in the world reports more blackmarket drug use. In this country, for example, since 1998, according to the British Crime Survey, there has been “a statistically significant increase” in Class A drug use, particularly of crack cocaine. The Home Office’s own assessment of the number of problematic drug users suggests that they are responsible for more than 50% of crime. How can there be more prolific offenders and yet less crime?

There is one explanation of which we can be certain: the drug users who drive the crime figures are committing a mass of offences which are statistically invisible. Repeated surveys of drug users in custody show that easily their most common property crime is shoplifting (50% of their offences in most surveys); and, beyond that, most drug users fund their habit by selling drugs, whether to friends or strangers – thousands of them in any major city in the time it has taken to read this article. In both cases, this mass of offences are almost entirely invisible to police records (they are recorded only when they are detected); and completely invisible to the British Crime Survey. Parallel to that, drug users commit crimes against each other – the Yardie dealers are constantly ripping each other off, pimps rob cash off each other’s working girls, rival gangs beat each other up. And these victims don’t go to the police or sit down with a form from the British Crime Survey.

It is one of the enduring problems of criminal justice systems that whilst they can change the pattern of crime they struggle to change its scale. The one explanation which applies to all the developed countries who have seen their crime figures fall is that they have shifted their expanding population of blackmarket drug users into committing a surge of invisible offences. It is difficult to prove that that is what has happened – because crime is hidden. But it is fair to say that the great crime fall is at best unproven and at worst a politically useful myth born out of deceitful practices.

Look at how the “fall in crime” is used. The right have claimed it proves that Michael Howard’s programme of imprisonment was a success. Liberals spun it in the opposite direction, as supposed evidence that there is no need for any kind of fundamental change in the criminal justice system. The Labour government repeatedly used it to claim credit for bringing down crime since 1997. They not only ignored the impact of invisible crime, they also conveniently overlooked the absence of any observable link between the fall and government policy. So, for example, assuming they were right to say that in reality, burglary and vehicle crime have been falling: it must be significant that the same downward trend shows up independently both in the police figures and in the British Crime Survey. But they chose to date this from the year they came to power when in fact the statistics show that burglary figures have been falling since 1993 and vehicle figures have been falling since 1992. Nobody knows why, and, during that time, crime recording policy has changed direction repeatedly adding layer upon layer of obfuscation to the mess, as if to throw distraction techniques into the pot to disguise the deceitful practices.

If you really want to understand the reality of crime in this country, the figures that matter are the research which show that just 1% of the population suffer 59% of all violent crime; that just 2% of the population suffer 41% of all property crime. And where are these victims? Most criminals commit their offences within 1.8 miles of their own front door. In other words, they rob their neighbours. Overwhelmingly, those offenders live in the shabby tower blocks and rotting council estates which have been consumed by poverty and criminalised by the war against drugs. That is where crime is booming, far, far away from where our Chief Officers deploy their resources toward easier middle class detection pickings in the middle class suburbs. In these inner city areas, as a single example, an 18-year-old lone woman with a child is more than five times more likely than the average to be a crime victim – far away from the statisticians and the politicians and their celebrations of success.

In this series of articles we will delve further into the practices that have brought our crime statistics into such a malaise, leaving all but the exceptionally naïve bereft of confidence in a system so corrupt as to undermine the good work being done by our front line officers.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

CRIME IS DOWN ..... OR IS IT? - PART 1

It was with more than a little annoyance, that we read once again about the continuing fall in crime last week. Such was the shortage of real news, the media jumped on the bandwagon with Yahoo, the BBC, the Independent, ACPO, The Guardian once, and twice, The Home Office, The Telegraph, and Theresa May all throwing their hats into the ring to have their say.

The frontline officers who read these pages and others on police sites, have long since tried to raise public awareness about the 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, 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".

The review – led by Jil Matheson – the National Statistician will look for cost effective ways to improve the coverage and coherence of crime statistics.

Crime statistics are made up of crimes recorded by the police and the British Crime Survey is based on interviews with the public about their experiences.

Theresa May said: 'Any reductions in crime are welcome, however levels are still too high and we know these statistics only offer a partial picture about the level of crime. More needs to be done to bring crime down and we need to take bold action to restore public trust in crime statistics. That is why I have asked the National Statistician to lead a review and why we are moving the publication of crime statistics out of the Home Office to an independent body. Improving public trust and confidence in crime statistics is crucial if we are to improve transparency and empower local communities to hold authorities to account.'


Better information

The review aims to give the public a clearer picture of crime levels, including:

• ensuring definitions of crimes and anti-social behaviour are aligned with the priorities and concerns of local communities

• improving transparency and trust in the crime data which is collated and published

• recommending how gaps in the statistics could be addressed
• advising which independent body should publish crime statistics in future

The review will report back by the end of April 2011 with any changes implemented from April 2012.

We have written extensively about how top UK police officers "Cook the books of Crime" for financial gain, bonus payments, political and career advancement. This "Conspiracy to Deceive" has gone on for too many years, and the news that Theresa May has appointed the National Statistician to clean up the mess is most welcome. Our concern is that the books are opened fully for Jil Matheson so she may see for herself the extent that the figures have been manipulated down the years.

It is a popular view that when the lid is finally prized off the crime statistics and detections can of worms, and the Top Cop pay scandal associated with it, here, here and finally here, the mess that will spill out into the public arena will eclipse that of the MP Expenses cases, brought courageously to the surface by Heather Brooke.  

SO WHAT OF THE LATEST CRIME STATISTICS?

Many in the know, may say just that . . .  so what!

Suffice to say, we have done some of our own homework on the statistics, (which incidentally only cover the 12 month period up to September 2010). Over the coming days, in sequels to this post, we will shed even more light on the numbers with our data taking us up to November 2010, which is at least a little more current.

The most recent figures released were submitted by Chief Officers and their forces still drunk under the political influence of the last Govenment. Theresa May abolished the old performance targets in June last year. Yet, despite having killed off Professor Frankenstein, his monster, in the form of performance targets and manipulated statistics, lives on in the senior management of the police forces of England and Wales. We need look no further than 32 of the 43 forces and their websites to see that te scrapped and expensive policing pledge is alive and well in those forces. Why? It is clear that the Chief Officers like the comfort of being able to say "We met our targets" even if the numbers were fiddled to get there.

To Theresa May and Jil Matheson, we wish you well in your fight to untangle the crime and detection statistics web of deceit. It may well be, that to restore confidence, we may have to accept drawing a line under the fabricated, financially driven statistics of Nu Labour with the introduction of a fresh start, or a "Ground Zero" approach. If that turns out to be the case, so be it. At least then there will be hope of some transparency and honesty about crime and detections, so that resources may be properly allocated.

As it stands at the moment, if we were to ask ourselves the questions: "Who is reponsible for the current malaise?  Why were the police not ring fenced in the spending review of last year?" Many might answer that the Chief Officers, with year upon year of fudged figures, gave the impression that they were reducing and detecting crime admirably with existing resources thank you very much. Is it any wonder they have now become the authors of their own and the rank and files current misfortunes?

So, to all Chief and Senior Officers who have even by their silence, helped to perpetuate the problems and challenges you now face, we would say this. For once, be honest. Before you point the finger of blame at everyone but yourselves, including the federated rank and file, who you have instructed to carry out your despicable and scurrilous "strategies" -remember this . . .

When you point the forefinger of blame, three more are pointing right back at you.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

THE PLIGHT OF UK POLICING IN 2011




A COPY OF A LETTER POSTED IN THE
SURREY ADVERTISER


From MICHAEL NICHOLSON O.B.E.
Former Chief Foreign Correspondent ITN


Special thanks go to The Surrey Constabulary Blog, for bringing this article to our attention. 

Born in Romford, Essex, Michael Nicholson was a war reporter for ITN, who has covered more wars and conflicts than any other British newsman. He has reported from wars in Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Jordan, India and Pakistan, Rhodesia, Beirut , Cyprus, Angola The falklands and The Persian Gulf.  During a twenty-five-year career, Nicholson reported on fifteen separate conflicts and became one our most respected and admired journalists. He has won numerous British and International awards, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, The Richard Dimbleby Award for his reporting of the Falklands War, and three times The Royal Television Society's Hournalist of the Year. He holds the Falklands and Gulf Campaign medals, and in 1991 was honoured with the OBE.  

It was on matters closer to home that Michael wrote to his local newspaper, The Surrey Advertiser concerning the plight that faces UK policing, in particular, the challenges now facing his local force, Surrey Police 

To read what Michael has to say about the cuts to policing click here.

Clearly au fait with the policing plight, Michael makes reference to many of the issues highlighted previously on these pages and those of many other police bloggers. Whilst the content of his letter is focused on the challenges faced by Surrey Chief, Mark Rowley and the likely effects of the tax paying residents of the county, his observations and astute comments apply to each of the 43 forces of England and Wales and therefore to the tax paying community on a national basis. 

Michaels main complaint is that the residents of Surrey have not been adequately consulted on the proposed cuts to the service and the likely consequences. This is synonymous with typical reports from around the country.

To illustrate Michaels clear grasp of the "policing plight" we have reprinted here some of the relevant points that transfer across all police force boundaries.

"In another of those optimistic police pledges, these response teams, sirens blaring, blue lights flashing, promise to be with you within 15 minutes of your call. That will indeed be all improvement because in reality current official response time figures show that it is more often nearer sixty minutes. Last year in the Haslemere area, only 30% of police response time were within target. That is one in three. Surrey police record for quick response is among the worst in the entire country and that’s official".

Officers and regular readers will echo these sentiments, knowing that it is the poor managerial application of resources that has resulted in this travesty of policing, not just in Surrey, but in forces across the UK. Earlier this year, Home Secretary Theresa May ordered that all forces must scrap the Policing Pledge.

Most Police Forces in England and Wales have ignored the Home Secretary’s stated aim to abolish Policing Pledge and Public Confidence targets. Ignoring her instructions on June 29th 2010 is an act of defiance because for 13 years, ACPO officers collectively wrung their hands and rolled over to acquiesce to everything the Home Office and Labour ministers suggested, no matter how silly or damaging. Now, suddenly, they pretend that they do not have to do what the Home Office tell them, even though it makes perfect sense. Over 300 own police officers commented on the Inspector Gadgets blog pages, confirming that their forces were still promoting the pledge:

• Bedfordshire Police
• Cambridgeshire Constabulary
• City Of London Police
• Devon & Cornwall Police
• Dorset Police
• Essex Police
• Hertfordshire Constabulary
• Sussex Police
• Kent Police
• Leicestershire Constabulary
• Lothian and Borders Police
• Northumbria Police
• Metropolitan Police
• Merseyside Police
• Cumbria Constabulary
• West Yorkshire Police
• South Yorkshire Police
• Lancashire Constabulary
• Lincolnshire Police
• Northamptonshire Police
• Nottinghamshire Police
• Surrey Police
• North Yorkshire Police
• Norfolk Constabulary
• Essex Police
• Gloucestershire Constabulary
• British Transport Police
• Cheshire Constabulary
• West Mercia Police
• Derbyshire Constabulary
• Warwickshire Police
• Wiltshire Police

The Policing Pledge was a bureaucratic, top down way of attempting to improve performance which just became a whole lot of targets in disguise. It was wrong to spend £6 million of taxpayers' money to advertise it. The Coalition have said they want to replace bureaucratic accountablity like this with democratic accountability. They scrapped the policing pledge to cut central bureaucracy and ensure a focus on cutting crime. Of course the police need to deliver a high quality service, but this won't be achieved by central dictat. In future it should be local people who judge whether the service they get is good enough, through the Police and Crime Commissioners, and it will be for Commissioners to determine the strategic priorities of the force.
 
Michael again . . .

"In another of those police pledges, Surrey is promised 200 new constables. Great news but given a 20% cut in revenue how will the county afford them? And where can we expect to see them? On the beat? Or more likely ensconced in their offices keeping their seats warm, or attending classes in social engineering? When was the last time you saw a uniformed warranted Policeman patrolling your high street?"

"The make-up of Surrey’s police force is revealing and on closer examination, rather disturbing. Did you know that there are more civilians in it than police officers? We have, at the last count, around 1,840 full time police officers in Surrey but more than 2,500 civilians on the Pay roll".

There are around 143,000 warranted police officers in England and Wales with a basic salary cost of £4.8billion. There are 82,000 civilian or police staff employees that cost in the region of £2.7billion. Much media coverage has focused on the growth in police numbers over recent years, yet the growth in civilian personnel has dwarfed this by comparison. The argument is that civilain staff are cheaper to employ, but is this what the public want? Would they rather not see more police officers making our communities a safer place to live? Would the better allocation of funding on warranted officers not alleviate much of the media and senior officer hype about the liklihood of rising crime in that wake of future austerity cuts?

"There is not a square foot of space to be seen between the parked cars and most of them do not belong to police officers. As the budget shrinks, how many of them will be handed their P45s? How many casualties? We bankroll them. Do we have a right to know?"

Excellent point well made Michael. This echoes what police bloggers have been trying to bring to the public attention for many years.

"Delve further and you find that fewer policemen than you think are on what they call ‘front line’ duties. In other words, out there in the cold, rain and snow protecting life, liberty and property. There are currently only around 460 front line uniformed warranted officers on call in Surrey. But about a third of them will not be available for duty because they are either on leave, (including maternity), at in-service training, on court attendance or absent due to the increasing contagion of days off sick.

So if my arithmetic serves me correctly and with Surreys population at around the one million 100,000 mark, we have only around 300 officers on call spread over three eight-hour shifts. That works out to one front line police officer for every 10,000 people.

And given that Surrey already has one of the lowest detection rates in the country, does it make you feel any safer?"

Once again, this echoes the points in reports from this site and many others, supported by in depth reports from Her Majesties Inspector of Constabulary. Too many of our warranted police officers are not avaialable when and where it's needed most .... at the front line of British policing, not sitting behind a desk, ticking boxes, filling in forms and adding to the over stretched burden of the frontline staff with nonsense e mails regarding targets that should by now have been scrapped.

"What exactly will a police presence represent? A part lime copper-cum counsellor on a nine to five shift, Monday to Friday? And where will that police presence be situated?
How accessible will it be? How visible? How responsive?

We do not want him or her squatting in Tesco or in the back room of the library or along a dim corridor of a council office. Surely we should demand it deserves prestige, some dignity? Perhaps even a blue lamp?

Public confidence of the police has fallen to an all-record low.

PC Plod has lost the plot and all because, according to Sir Denis O’Connor, currently Chief Inspector of Constabulary, the police “have retreated from the streets… they should be more visible, more in touch with the very people they are meant to protect”.

Isn’t that exactly what the rest of us have been saying for years?

Much the same complaint has come from another of our knighted policemen, Sir Ian Blair, the less than successful former head of the Met. How ironic then that these remarks are made by these two former chief constables of Surrey who were, in no small part, responsible for our current policing crisis. The one Mark Rowley has, much to his annoyance, now inherited.

That we have been left out of the loop and all but bypassed by the arrogance of a small number of un-elected people who reckon they and only they, know what is best for us".

Many readers will undoubtedly echo the sentiments so eloquently expressed by Michael as being representative of their forces. Many members of the public too, would confirm that they have little or no consultation in how the cuts will affect their quality of life.

This will be music to the ears of the Home Secretary Theresa May and Nick Herbert, the Police and Justic Minister, who will be pressing for the introduction of Locally Elected Police and Crime Commissioners in 2012. The main driver behind this proposal is that greater local consultation on policing matters will be introduced with Commissioners holding Chief Constables to account for their performance on local issues such as this. 

The invisible and under performing police authorities have been shown to be unfit for the purpose they were intended to fulfill. This point was endorsed by the HMIC inspections of the 43 police authorities, who were shown to have a weak grasp and control of police issues. 

There are arguments for and against the introduction of Localy Elected Commissioners and whilst not seeking to comment on that debate at this juncture, the experience and reporting of Michael Nicholson suggest that this is one area where the new regime needs to improve communication between the police and the tax paying public they serve. 

We are hoping that Michael will be given the opportunity to read these pages and that he might lend his weight to the issues on a national level. Either way, he is to be thanked for his contribution as a tax paying citizen who has earned the respect of us all.
















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