Submission to the Public Administration Select Committee Enquiry into Police Recorded Crime by: Steve Bennett on behalf of the Thin Blue LineFocusing on exposing the manipulation of recorded crime and police detections.
"All that's necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke (British Statesman and Philosopher 1729-1797
Working on the assumption that the majority of submissions will focus on the technical accuracy or flaws of police recorded crime, this submission will look more at the consequences of “Gaming”, “Cooking the crime books” or “Good Housekeeping” than the minutiae of the data. The views expressed here are not merely those of the author, but also of many officers who have contributed to his site and others like it over recent years, severely critical of procedures and crime recording processes that compromise their professional integrity and cheat the public out of the public service they truly deserve.
· From many years of actual police experience followed by extensive research and evidence gathering for the website and numerous in depth analytical reports, the author concludes that police recorded crime has deteriorated into a fallacious and perniciously constructed public deception.
· Knowing or at least suspecting that the books of crime had been cooked over the years, the Coalition Government chose to use the fallacious crime statistics as a key motivator for including policing in the comprehensive spending review that led to the massive cuts in police resources and frontline officer numbers.
· The police are meant to protect life and property, prevent and detect crime. That is their function, to protect us from the criminal fraternity. This is what the majority of committed police officers want and joined the job to do. Reducing head counts based on fiddled crime statistics ignores this issue completely and endangers the lives and threatens the safety of us all.
· Politicians believe what is in their interests to believe and disregard the rest. Many Chief Officers, either by constructing the corrupt and fraudulent recording systems, or at the very least by condoning or adopting a conveniently myopic attitude to their use, display a lack of genuine interest or concern for the public whose votes and taxes keep them in office. They are only interested in spinning the numbers out to represent what they want the public to believe.
· Prior to New Labour introducing financial incentives for Chiefs, the 43 forces, as we might expect, performed differently. Chief Officers were paid 15% bonuses to reflect crime reductions and within a few short years, ALL 43 forces reported consistent drops in crime, using various practises detailed on the Thin Blue Line blog. Pernicious, deceitful manipulation of recorded crime over a 20 year period, where many Chief Officers knowingly accepted performance bonuses related to fudged numbers is corrupt.
· The lack of any support system for officers daring to whistle-blow on the subject serves to perpetuate the problem. In fact, Officers that have done so have been castigated, with careers blocked or even ended as a result.
· The honour and distinction of achieving a high rank in public service has been replaced with greed, with a convenient blindness to the immorality of their actions.
· The police will never regain our trust until they get decent leadership and smash the so-called ‘canteen culture’ that pervades the service. The decent officers, the majority, deserve much better than they have got, and so does the British public.
· Res ipsa loquitor - Let the facts speak for themselves
1.1 No to both parts. The crime game has become a devious means of pretending to win the war against crime, which happens to be fatally flawed by the fact that it allows the victims of crime to be cheated of justice.
1.2 Well known tactics are employed such as ‘cuffing’ (simply not recording or recording in alternative non-crime recorded registers) and ‘skewing’ or concentrating resources on areas subject to performance indicators, investing less in the investigation of the more difficult and resource intensive areas of police activity. (cannabis warnings, public fear, alarm or distress detections threatening texts etc are good examples). A common example employed by senior officers involves the re-deployment of officers to more affluent neighbourhoods where crime is easier to investigate and detect. For years, the game has been played by police up and down the country without any public spectators.
1.3 The object is to cheat the system for recording crime so that for all official purposes – and especially for the purpose of public statements – the force can boast that fewer offences are being committed on its patch. The main tactic in this part of the game is known to police officers all over the country as “cuffing” – because the crimes disappear up the cuff off the policeman’s sleeve.
1.4 Police officers, working under intense pressure to deliver the figures which their senior officers demand, cuff with diligence and imagination. They set up “alternative recording systems”. On the surface, they appeared quite innocent, simply records of minor damage, vehicle interference and domestic violence.
1.5 A householder contacts police to report that someone has tried to break into his home, there are jemmy marks around his back door. According to the Home Office counting rules, that is an attempted burglary, a crime which needs to be recorded. But according to the rules of the crime game, that was merely minor damage costing less than £20 to repair, not a crime at all for the purpose of official statistics. The householder goes home faithfully believing that the forces of law and order were now on his side. The police cuff him and forget him.
1.6 Similarly, the motorist who finds that someone has tried to break into his car is smuggled out of the records as a case of “vehicle interference” – not a notifiable offence. It is the same with those who tell police that they have suffered theft of a mobile phone, handbag, wallets or giro cheque. Unless there is clear evidence of a thief at work, the crime is recorded as lost property. The wife battered by her husband might think she is the victim of a crime, but, unless she insists on a prosecution she, too, ends up in the alternative records.
1.7 The author is the creator of a product provides replacement vehicles to many hundreds of victims of car theft. Daily experience has shown that crime numbers are rarely provided. Incident numbers are issued that are supposed to convert to crime numbers when the offence of Theft is complete – i.e. not recovered. Subsequent enquiries reveal that the vast majority do NOT covert to crime numbers and therefore reflect a greater than actual reduction on vehicle theft.
1.8 Many forces from our investigation adopt a crime-recording policy, designed to have the effect of artificially reducing recorded crime to a more politically acceptable level.
1.9 In private, police officers from many different forces will talk about cuffing as a routine fact of working life. In public, only a few have the courage, for fear of the damage that whistle blowing may have on their career. Spanish practices pervade which are uncomfortable for everyone. For example, if a thief goes down a street at night, stealing from every car he sees, officers record the first theft and lose the others on the back of the sheet.
1.10 From the introduction of performance indicators to measure the success of police, cuffing took off. The number of crimes that have been recorded nationally has fallen steadily since 1993. The true picture – uncorrupted by cuffing – is simply not known. What is clear is that much, if not all, of the applause has been undeserved. And tens of thousands of crime victims have been cheated of police attention.
2. What are the factors which can influence police mis-recording of crime?
2.1 Performance targeting. Despite the efforts of the Home Secretary to remove all targets, it is a fact that ALL forces continue to measure their performance by the numbers of crimes recorded. Linking this to financial incentives for chief and senior command officers for reducing crime perverts the process and encourages malpractice. Chief Officers can con the politicians and their respective Police & Crime Commissioners all they like that crime continues to fall no matter how few officers are available to deal with it. ACPO and the Chief Officers have shown themselves to be totally self-serving and shamelessly uncaring about the front line consequences of their strategies. But why should they care? They get paid handsomely for showing how wonderfully effective they are, what incentive is there for them to play the honesty card?
2.2 Cuts to the police service were authorised largely as a result of the many years of declining recorded crime. The statistics are crooked and distorted beyond belief. Many thousands of officer numbers slashed. Fewer officers remain to protect life and property, to prevent and detect crime. Yet the Chief Officers that are responsible for fudging the statistics remain in post, happily drawing their salary without conscience that they are the authors of the misfortunes dumped on the rank and file.
2.3 Whilst this is allowed to continue, the tax payer is being cheated out of the service he and she deserves and the front line officers are expected to toe the line, play the game and submit to behaviour that compromises their professional integrity.
2.4 Chief Officers must be held to account. Whether they have constructed the systems that fiddle the numbers, condoned the actions or merely turned a blind eye to the practices, it is ONLY THEY who have benefitted from this distortion and manipulation. It is ONLY THEY who received exorbitant bonus payments down the years (payments that make the MP Expenses Scandal appear small stuff by comparison), to reflect crime reductions and detection increases. It is ONLY THEY who advanced their careers and political ambitions on the back of this disgraceful deception. It is the public who are being conned, the rank and file who have lost faith in their superiors.
2.5 Imagine you are the CEO of a national company with 43 branches. Realistically, you would expect a variance in performance from that the 43 branches. Prior to the last Labour Government, this was the case with the 43 police forces. Some were effective at controlling crime levels, others ticked along while a number had clearly lost control of crime on their patch. New labour introduced performance targeting, which rewarded Chief Officers and their higher level command teams with bonus payments to reflect reduced crime.
2.6 Chief Officers, many with £150k plus packages were paid as much as 15% on top to report reduced crime. Within a few short years ALL 43 FORCES reported massive reductions in crime. Was this all achieved through more effective policing methods or by embracing the culture of "Gaming" as described above?
2.7 Frontline officers are told how to police. A root and branch exposure of this crime of the century, perpetrated by the most senior police officers is required. Chief Officers will of course refute any such allegations, protecting their career and pension. However there is plenty of front line officer evidence available that confirms that the statistics are not to be trusted, though expecting officers to name and shame their seniors to expose the problem may prove to be more difficult.
2.8 Is it realistic to believe that a disparate 44 force police service could so unanimously (98% of the service in 2013) and consistently reduce crime year after year, without there being some form of gaming activity?
3. Are the right checks in place to ensure that the systems for recording crime function effectively and accurately?
3.1 Simply, no. In 2008, Michael Chatterton was commissioned by the Joint Central Committee of the Police Federation of England & Wales to report on the resilience of the CID. The report “losing the detectives” involved interviewing many operational detectives and police staff.
3.2 He discovered an excessively rigid and bureaucratic approach to targets and performance management resulting in a pernicious and perverse effect on police operations. He heard of the diverting of police priorities from serious crime to chasing minor offences; giving the public a false sense of security that crime is being reduced with increasing effectiveness by the police and undermining the discretion necessary for the impartial discharge of the office of constable.
3.3 To quote Chatterton “There is no change in Government and senior police management policy which is at once more urgent and important than this”.
3.4 Direct quotes from frontline officers provide the response to the question posed above:- “I quite often get jobs put on my desk describing what has happened and asking ‘should this really be recorded?’ I have to tell them there is a victim who has complained of a crime, it needs to be recorded. The fact that the victims don’t want to tell you what’s happened, you know, this doesn’t really matter, it’s a reported crime [sarcastically]. But there’s a couple of kids that have had a sort of a pushing game in the playground, you know, and it’s now an assault. The police service is criminalising people. A so-called crime’s been reported so you have to crime it in accordance with the National Crime Recording Standards. You can’t get rid of it. There’s an offender so the way you resolve it is by cautioning him because the senior management don’t want an undetected violent crime”.
3.5 “Say I have my bosses saying ‘look we have got too many robberies what can you do about it?’ So you start looking at these reports of robbery and suddenly they become a theft with an assault, not a robbery. There is pressure to reclassify crimes to fit statistics”.
3.6 “The point is the further you go down to the floor level where the officers aren’t quite as polished maybe or don’t have the fine judgement for when it’s going beyond integrity for recording purposes and that’s where I think the danger is because all this pressure is going all the way down you know”.
3.7 “The numbers game is by far the most depressing part of this job. I feel physically sick when reading snivelling emails from once respected DCIs on the beg encouraging unethical practices. It so totally dominates to the utter detriment of policing. All those involved at a senior level are corrupt self serving sxxxxxxx”
3.8 “Our force published a 21% Drop in Public Order offences , didn't disclose that all minor offences were recorded as Drunk and disorderly offences and not even counted as crimes ! Last year we were told to crime all drunk offences as public order ! Why do we do that ?”
3.9 There are literally hundreds of similar example comments from frontline officers across the country. It may be tempting to consider that this is one big conspiracy theory however they can’t ALL be exaggerating the practice of manipulating crime statistics.
3.10 Whilst the ghost of performance targeting is allowed to remain in the service, any revisions to the system will be worthless. Remove the incentives to fudge the figures and the integrity of the majority will prevail in recording crime as it occurs, without fear of the consequences of crime rising.
2. Has enough been done to ensure the integrity of crime data? What more should be done?
4.1 Again, no. In July 2000, HM Inspector of Constabulary reported that in eleven forces which his staff had checked, just about a quarter (24%) of all reported crimes had been mis-recorded, either through genuine confusion or deliberate concealment. At the end of that year, the politicians celebrated a fall in the crime recorded by police nationally of 122,344 offences. But if HMI’s snapshot were reproduced across the country, then in that same year, police forces concealed or mis-recorded 1,635,424 offences – more than 13 times as big as the claimed fall. In other words, for years, the police statistics have been not just slightly misleading but wholly worthless as a statement of what is really happening.
4.2 The trouble with crime is that it’s illegal. Which means it’s secret. Which means that all the king’s forces and all the king’s men and women at every level of every criminal justice agency in the country don’t really know what’s happening.
4.3 In recent years, just about all of them have thrown their hats and helmets in the air to celebrate a steady fall in crime. The Home Office said it was all down to its crime prevention work. The police said it was their new intelligence-led approach. The academics said it was rising consumption, falling inequality, more alarms, fewer adolescent males or a fall in unemployment.
4.4 But what if it never happened? What if all that research (and all of the political point-scoring which it inspired) is misleading? What if the truth is that crime didn’t fall at all – that it was only the statistics that fell?
4.5 Police figures are deeply flawed and unreliable in any event, because they deal only with the crime which they record. The weakness is twofold. First, many 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.
4.6 But, much more important, even if crime is reported, it is frequently not recorded because the police have a long and skilful history of fiddling the figures.
4.7 Crime screening is yet another area of concern. Whilst not suggested that all screened crimes disappear from the records, a HMIC Inspection to see what actually happens to them is needed. Police are failing to investigate about 850,000 crimes a year properly, because officers believe they are unlikely to be solved.
4.8 Up to 90% of some types of offences are being “screened out” as unsuitable for detailed investigation in a move to save resources. More than half the police forces in England and Wales who responded to freedom of information requests said they operated a screening policy.
4.9 The Metropolitan police abandoned investigations into more than 362,300 crimes in 2011-12, representing 44% of all offences. Bedfordshire police screened out 39% of crimes, Warwickshire 37% of offences and Northamptonshire 33% of crimes.
4.10 The question is asked and must be answered. “just how many of these non-investigated matters are cuffed from the records?”
4.11 As per the last question, until the incentive and desire to manipulate is removed, any preventative measures and changes to the system will be overcome by those with sufficient motive. Remove the possibility of any financial, political or career incentive. The rot must be eliminated before the healing can begin.
4.12 Prior to performance targeting, recorded crime manipulation was far less prevalent. The recording process relied upon the efficiency of officers recording matters accurately, without any incentive or pressure to do otherwise.
4.13 The HMIC thematic Inspections due in 2014 with crime recording as its focus must ne ruthless in uncovering the truth and courageous enough to reveal it.
3. To what extent can policy-makers have confidence in the statistics which result from the recording of crime by police forces?
5.1. I struggle to see how policy makers can have any confidence in statistics that are manipulated. Garbage In = Garbage Out. In business, if a company bases its resources and activity upon fallacious figures it wouldn’t be trading for very long. Determining policy based on falsified figures results in poor managerial decisions and misdirected use of valuable resources.
4. Should recorded crime statistics be classified as National Statistics?
6.1 On the basis of all that has been said before, crime statistics in their present form lack the necessary data integrity, accuracy and probity to be worthy of being classified as National Statistics.
“It is vital to measure crime accurately if we are to be able to tackle it effectively”
David Blunkett (July 2001).