Sunday, 25 October 2009

No faith in police statistics?

As the Government seek to maintain that crime is falling, its claim is undermined by the disclosure that police forces are routinely failing to record many violent offences. HM Inspector of Constabulary found that vicious street attacks and wife beatings are being wrongly dismissed as "no crimes". The police inspectorate found that one in three decisions to record a violent incident as “no crime” were wrong. If the findings, based on a small sample, are repeated across England and Wales it would mean that an estimated 5,000 violent offences a year are being wrongly dismissed.

While serious assaults are only a small proportion of total crime, can we place any faith in other statistics provided by the police?

The recorded crime figures have become almost impossible to take seriously. The Home Office has changed the methodology so dramatically since 1997 that comparing figures for crime over time has deliberately been made an impossible task. This allows ministers to rely upon the British Crime Survey as their preferred measure of offending, even though it was introduced in the 1980s to complement, not replace, police figures.

But far more important than the manipulation of dodgy figures is the fact that thousands of victims have received no justice; indeed, they have not even had their ordeal taken seriously. Two stories have exemplified the backward approach which prevails: an investigation of an attack on a 17-year-old girl was dropped because of the cost of sending her clothes away for DNA tests; yet a man who returned a £5 takeaway meal he had ordered was arrested by four officers, interrogated for 20 hours and charged with criminal damage.

A female pensioner said she was pushed to the floor, banged her head and was kicked repeatedly by four offenders while on the ground. The force recorded the crime as inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent. HMIC would classify it as wounding or carrying out an act endangering life, a form of Most Serious Violence.

A victim of an attack in a pub said he was punched repeatedly in the head, pushed to the floor and continually kicked. The injuries included a swollen eye, cuts and swelling to the head and cheek and bruising to knees, legs and hands. The force recorded the crime as ABH (Assault With Less Serious Injury) while HMIC would classify it as attempted grievous bodily harm with intent (Most Serious Violence).

A husband allegedly smashed up his wife’s car, threw things at the window and threatened her with a stick. The force classified the offence as an incident while HMIC would classify it as a criminal damage.

Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “It’s a very high error rate on a small sample. For us, as the regulator, it’s a matter of concern.”

Denis O'Connor Chief Inspector of Constabulary

Of the 479 incidents that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) examined, 35.7 per cent of the decisions were found to be wrong. The report’s findings raise concerns that officers are under pressure to dismiss some crimes in order to make their forces appear better and to meet government targets.

Warped priorities such as these result in a corrosive decline in public trust of the police. Mr O'Connor said "perverse targets" set by the Government might be partly to blame. But there must come a time when the authorities take direct responsibility for such inanities.

The HMIC report came on the same day that the quarterly crime statistics were released by the Home Office. They showed that between April and June, compared to the same three-month period last year, more burglaries, robberies and personal thefts were recorded. Domestic burglary rose by 3 per cent, robbery by 1 per cent and personal theft by 5 per cent. The economic downturn is one possible reason for the rise.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: “The increase in burglary rates is worrying since it is the unemployed who are most likely to be the victims – making life even tougher for them at the moment.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This is the fourth quarter in a row in which theft and burglary have risen as the recession bites. Senior police officers warn that we have not yet seen the full extent of the credit crunch crime wave.”

Crime Analysis Team
Nice 1 Limited


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