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.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A dramatic drop in violent crime?

I attended the annual Grant Thornton Police Conference, hosted by Paul Grady, yesterday with Bernard Rix. The event for Police & Crime Panels that Bernard and I ran last autumn got a good plug as did the thematic investigation into PCC transparency that CoPaCC carried out with sponsorship from GT. I am most grateful for the invitation to yesterday's event: it was a good day to learn more about the auditing of police constabularies and OPCCs, as well as network with a number of key people (including Tim Passmore, PCC for Suffolk).

During the day, one person highlighted the headline in yesterday's Times: Shock drop in violent crime and noted that the police were not mentioned at all as being a contributory factor. This prompted discussion as to whether the police are always the best at promoting their successes (which was a theme picked up on by Bernard later in the day).

However, the story is far more subtle than that. Two blogs I have spotted this morning: Is the rising cost of alcohol behind falling violent crime? and Behind the headlines: Is it really a ‘shock’ drop in violent crime? both converge and say 1) there has been a long term drop in violent crime and 2) it is all very complex and the causes of this drop are difficult to tease out.

As with most pop sociology and psychology newspaper stories it is always worth going back to the original research (rather than stick with the journalists spin). Here it is. And here is a quote:
Reasons for decreases in violence nationally are not clear, but are likely to be multi-factorial and complex. These could include changes in structural factors such as unemployment, poverty and inequality in addition to public health and criminal justice interventions to prevent violence locally and more widely. In addition, since 2008, affordability of alcohol has decreased, the real price of alcohol in both the on-trade and off-trade has increased and UK alcohol consumption levels have decreased from 10.8 (in 2008) to 10 litres per capita (in 2011).10, 11  These factors may partly explain the falls in serious violence in England and Wales. 
The alcohol factor could be a significant one. Although it is worth noting that the general trend has been towards alcohol becoming increasingly affordable over the period of the long term decline of violence.

But let us repeat: Reasons for decreases in violence nationally are not clear, but are likely to be multi-factorial and complex.

So beware glib conclusions that this is all down to the last four years of the coalition government's policies on crime and policing! It is a good trend but it is bigger than one government in one country!

Update 1337|240414: My good twitter pal & news scooper @SteveBachelder highlighted this article this morning: Yes, lead poisoning could really be a cause of violent crime by George Monbiot. To quote:
At first it seemed preposterous. The hypothesis was so exotic that I laughed. The rise and fall of violent crime during the second half of the 20th century and first years of the 21st were caused, it proposed, not by changes in policing or imprisonment, single parenthood, recession, crack cocaine or the legalisation of abortion, but mainly by … lead...
Update 1509|240414: And for an another view, this article is worth a read as well: Is violence in decline? by Richard Garside:
In general, those who hold forth confidently about the falls in violence are white, middle-aged, middle class males who, for a number of reasons - economic, social, demographic to name three - are far less likely to be victims of violence than they were as teenagers. Unsurprisingly they are inclined to believe official data that reinforces their own experiences.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous24/4/14 12:26

    Also in the news is that a drop in lead is causing the drop in crime. Here's a partial rebuttal from Steven Pinker (basically saying its to early to say)