This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is crime going up or down?

The short answer is.. I do not know. Do you?

I have been seeing reports and tweets this morning reflecting this headline from ITV News: Figures 'show sharp increase in property crime'

Is it only property crime, or other kinds of crime too? If there is an increase is this due to reductions in officer numbers or more people reporting crimes such as these? And in the context of the "police fix statistics to meet targets..." what data can we really trust?

Of course it will be in the interests of some to show a rise in crime and indeed in the interests of others to say that we cannot trust the data...

One constant and reliable source is the Crime Survey of England & Wales (CSEW). This survey has been measuring crime trends since 1982. And as it says on its website:
The Crime Survey records crimes that may not have been reported to the police and it is therefore used alongside the police recorded crime figures to show a more accurate picture of the level of crime in the country.
This service is vital. Recently I wrote asking them if their data could show trends in individual police force areas (something which would help us hold PCCs to transparent account). This is the answer I received:
Theoretically, police force area data are available from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, although due to reductions in sample sizes, we do not feel estimates at this geography level are sufficiently robust and we would advise against using them. 
I have written back to ask them what extra resources would be required to get robust data for each force area. That was a few days ago, I will let you know when I get a reply.

You can read the CSEW report for the year ending June 2013 here. One summary point was:
The headline estimate for crimes against households and resident adults was down 7% compared with the previous year’s survey. This is the lowest over the history of the survey, which began in 1981, and is now less than half its peak level in 1995.(my added emphasis)
This is good news. But note these two snippets as well (again with my added emphases):
In the year ending June 2013, 230,335 fraud offences were recorded. This represents a volume increase of 21% compared with the previous year and should be seen in the context of a move towards the centralised recording of fraud by the police.
Within victim-based crime, there were decreases across all the main categories of recorded crime compared with the previous year, except for theft from the person (up 8%), shoplifting (up 1%) and sexual offences (up 9%). The latter increase is thought to be partly a ‘Yewtree effect’, whereby greater numbers of victims have come forward to report historical sexual offences to the police
Three things seem obvious to me:
  • We need greater robust granularity in this CSEW data so that police areas can be properly compared. (Given the inevitable difficulties surrounding the recording of crime by the police, and I am not just talking about issues concerning the twisting of such data, we need this finer data.)
  • We also need more real time CSEW data as well: annual figures are not enough to base reaction upon. (We need at least quarterly figures if not monthly ones. I know there would be extra costs involved but if it helps understand patterns of crime better and so lead to more effective intervention & prevention, it would be worth it. Perhaps also the CSEW team could explore the use of social media monitoring to supplement their data?)
  • We need to make sure that internet and remote crime are being properly tracked as well. (I have a hunch that some of the reductions in crime is due to organised criminals migrating their practice to the internet and other ways of fraudulently extracting money from people. Is this true? Are the CSEW survey methods adequately monitoring this kind of crime?)
UPDATE 041213|1328: Thanks to Roger Nield ‏@rogernield2703 for this contribution to the debate
In Runnymede crime is still falling in general. Vehicle crime and burglaries are lower as are 'total notifiable offences' and this is mirrored by a reduction in reported anti-social behaviour. The fall has been ongoing for over 17 years and public perception has been regularly recorded in an independent Community Safety Survey. This was most recently audited in the summer of 2013 and it is to Runnymede Borough Councils great credit that they have continued to commission the survey. 
But its not all good news: There has been a bounce back in the numbers of assaults with injuries reported. This may be due to an increase in the number of domestic violence reports taken (there is evidence that these previously have been under-reported). But if you do report an assault you can be certain that police will take positive action to stop it happening again and we will pursue the offender! 
It is a concern that some places are reporting general increases in crime figures and I watch follow on statistics with interest. 


  1. There are so many issues here. Perceptions and realities of crime for the public, alongside how the police record and report crimes. Let alone how commercial companies record crimes against them and their policies on making a report to others, notably the police. 'Staged accidents' come to mind, the police nationally have been reluctant to investigate, let alone record them; some forces refuse to accept evidence packages presented.

    Experience of reporting a crime, whether to the police or a non-police body, is rarely an easy matter for the public and organisations. Sometimes, maybe often, it is non-rewarding and rarely in my experience encourages one to report the next time.

    There is a big difference though when the suspect(s) are described, if not identifiable. On-line credit card frauds come to mind, very lucrative for little risk and invariably the crime scene is a good distance from where the suspect(s) reside. The person reporting's expectations from the police often are at variance with the police's capability and will to pursue - the "CSI effect".

    It is well known that Action Fraud fails to record the information held by the financial sector (banks, credit card providers and retailers). If it takes fifteen minutes to report one incident to them, how does a bank for example report a thousand separate frauds? Action Fraud have been asked to supply a simple method for data transfer and have failed.

    Perhaps we should have a national day when all known crime is recorded and compiled for analysis? The UK has such number-crunching facilities @ Daresbury.

    Finally honesty is at a premium for everyone. Do we really want to be honest with ourselves? Are we as a people less honest than before for example.

    1. Thank you David for your challenging questions. There are some big issues here for the new NCA - and perhaps ethical ones for us all. Your last question is intriguing and probably impossible to answer. I would like to think not. But how do we know?