Police recorded crime figures, represent the level of crime being reported to the police either by a victim or a third party and to a lesser extent, crimes discovered by officer’s in the course of their duty. However, not all crime reported to the police is required to be recorded.
The types of offences which need to be recorded are governed by the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) established in 1998 and the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) implemented in 2002. Together they provide a framework for the recording of crime by the police.
Prior to the introduction of the NCRS, a lot of inconsistency existed between forces and even individual officers within forces about what should or should not be recorded. The NCRS was introduced to try and overcome these problems, by basing recording decisions on the evidence provided by the victim, rather than an officer’s opinion of that evidence.
Therefore, a crime should be recorded regardless of the likelihood of finding a suspect or bring a potential offender to justice. It is purely an administrative task of recording an offence against an identified victim or the state.
It never has been nor will be a true record of the level of offences being committed, locally or nationally.
How is crime reported/recorded
Most reports of crime, by the public, go via a call handler who will record the details of the incident. An assessment is then carried out to decide if an officer needs to attend. For less serious crimes, where no immediate response is required, the incident can be transferred directly onto the force’s crime recording system.
The HMIC report found that 98% of crimes, when directly recorded in this way were correct but this fell to only 81% when an attending officer made the decision to record a crime.
The report gives three reasons for this disparity.
Inadequate supervision: This accounted for about half the errors. The police effectively deciding that a crime did not occur, without giving an adequate explanation to justify that decision.
Insufficient knowledge: Failures in the understanding of staff of specific aspects of the Home Office Counting Rules; these account for 21 percent of errors.
Disengagement by the police or the victim: This accounts for over a quarter of the under-recorded crime. The data suggest that the police will disengage more readily on particular types of crime, sexual offences, robberies and burglaries, where the victim’s account is disbelieved without a justifiable reason. Missed appointments can also result in either party, disengaging prior to a crime being recorded.
Crimes can also be reported directly to officers on patrol or at police stations, and some are referred directly to specialist departments. These other routes account for around seven percent of the total crime recorded by the police.
When a crime is recorded it may be found, upon further investigation, that no crime was actually committed. For instance, an item that was reported as stolen was actually just lost and subsequently found etc. Under such circumstances the record is removed, this is known as “no criming” The rules for deciding if a crime is no longer a crime are quite straight forward.
1/ Additional information comes to light that verifies that no crime was committed.
2/ The original record was made in error.
3/ The alleged crime (less serious assault) was in fact self defence.
Also a crime does not need to be recorded if ;
4/ The crime happened outside of the jurisdiction of the force where it was reported, it is then transferred to the correct authority for recording.
( ie. The crime happened on railway property which is under the control of the British Transport Police )
5/ The crime is part of another crime already recorded.
(The number of crimes recorded is actually the number of victims, so if multiply crimes are committed against the same victim at the same time, only one crime record is created.)
The HMIC report found a lot of inconsistency, between forces and individuals within forces, when applying these rules.
Overall the inspection found that 20% of the crimes audited had been “no crimed” incorrectly.
Out of Court Disposals
The HOCR also covers how the police use out-of-court disposals such as cautions, cannabis warnings, community resolutions and penalty notices for disorder when dealing with offenders.
These allow the police to deal quickly and proportionately with low-level offences, which can be resolved satisfactorily and in the public interest without going to court.
The inspection found:
Cautions – Out of the 951 cautions that were dip-sampled, it was found that in 873 cases the offender’s previous history made him suitable to receive a caution. 92%
Penalty Notices for Disorder – Out of 944 PNDs dip sampled it was found that the offender was suitable to receive a penalty notice in 793 cases. 84%
Cannabis warnings – Out of 1,020 cannabis warnings it was found that the offender was suitable to receive a warning in 875 cases. 86%
Community resolutions – From a sample of 927 community resolutions it was found that in 803 cases, the offender either had no previous offending history or that the offender’s past history still justified the use of a community resolution. 87%
These disposals were introduced to reduce bureaucracy. They are subject to basic rules and are simple to administer. Compliance with these rules should be good, yet the results above show that this is not the case.
The HMIC inspection and subsequent report is concerned with how the rules contained in the HOCR and NCRS are being applied.
The report was the most comprehensive of its type to be conducted, however the only part which is statistically significant is the recording of crime via call handlers. The amount of data inspected at individual force level is too small to give any significant results but when combined give an overall picture of how well the rules of the HOCR and NCRS are being applied.
In short, it was an inspection into the police-recorded crime data system, rather than an inquiry into the integrity of those responsible for recording it.
The report The full report into Crime Recording
The data Crime recording Force data
As well as the overall report, individual reports were prepared for each Police force.
Report on Essex Police force Data integrity Essex Police
Although, as already stated, the quantity of data forming this inspection was not adequate to provide force comparisons, the report on Essex police found few faults.
Massaging the Figures
Crime was first recorded in the mid nineteenth century in the publication “Judicial Statistics for England and Wales “. Ever since then allegations have been made that the figures were/are being massaged for political and/or personal gain.
In the 1930’s the Metropolitan Police were reported to have been “listing many reported thefts as lost property“. In 1999 The Times published an editorial “we all know that there are three sorts of lies, statistics, crime statistics and police crime statistics.”. Every few years such stories appear, sometimes it prompts action by the government, on other occasions the story runs for a while and then is forgotten.
The present focus on recorded crime started with a whistleblower. A PC in the Met, claimed that crime figures were being fiddled, with some crimes not being recorded at all and others being wrongly classified. This sparked a parliamentary enquiry, where senior officers and others were questioned about the seriousness and scale of the issue. In the course of this enquiry, which took several months, Police recorded crime figures lost their status as a national statistic and a pre planned inspection by HMIC, of all 43 police forces in England and Wales, was given additional tasks to verify the extent of the problem.
Arbitrary targets leads to dysfunctional behaviour
National targets for police performance, imposed by the previous government, were scrapped by the present home secretary, shortly after she took office four years ago.
However, a survey conducted during this inspection shows that a target driven management structure still exists within some forces. Police recorded crime has always been viewed as a indicator of performance, whether this be the force as a whole or as an individual. Many promotions have been gained on the back of falling crime figures, the easiest way to reduce crime is not to record it in the first place.
Why recorded crime has ever been used as an indicator of a force's or an individuals performance is a mystery.
The volume of recorded crime is reliant on the willingness of the public to report a crime in the first place. If the public has trust in the ability (performance) of the police to deal with a particular offence, the more likely they are to report it. So it can be argued that a better performing police force should see reported crime rising not falling.
(Only 3.7 million were recorded, out of an estimated total in excess of 20 million offences committed, within the year ending June 2014)
More details at Crime Surveys
The report also identified workload pressure as factor in under recording crime. Austerity budget cuts have lead to a reduction of 16,000 officers and 18,000 civilian staff in the last 4 years.
The Home Office justify these cuts as recorded crime has continued to fall year on year. Morale within the police force is extremely low and stress related illness continues to rise, it is therefore of little surprise that some crime goes unreported for this reason.
The HMIC report states "the failure to record such a significant proportion of reported crime is wholly unacceptable" it also condemns the practice of "no criming" without good reason.
It gives 13 recommendations to be implemented nationally as well as numerous recommendations for individual forces.
In future annual inspections, of individual forces, checking data integrity will be include. I expect that the next report will show a vast improvement in the quality of crime recording.
What's gone wrong
The culture of reducing crime numbers rather than crimes, has lead to some recent high profile scandals namely the Jimmy Savile case and the sexual abuse of young girls in and around Rotherham. It is likely that many other such cases will come to light in the fullness of time. The failure to abide by the rules of the HOCR and the NCRS is totally unacceptable. The headline “Police fail to record 800,000 crimes a year ” should read “Police fail 800,000 victims of crime a year".
Support for the victims of crime combined with justice for the wider community must be the focus of our police force not an obsession with meaningless numerical comparisons.
The "no-criming" of offences without a justifiable reason or informing the victim, is also not acceptable. Even unsolvable crime should remain on the system, so victims will at least receive the support they require, if not the justice.
During a period of budgetary cuts, on a scale rarely if ever seen before, it is ironic that some police officers still persist in massaging crime figures downwards. Never has the phrase "shooting yourself in the foot" been more aptly applied.
The culture of gauging performance by meeting arbitrary numerical targets can, given time, be eradicated from the police service.
The under recording of crime and the unjustified removal of recorded crime, due to the pressures of an individual or a teams workload is perhaps of more concern. Further budgetary cuts are forecast over the next few years, the scale of which will be similar to those that have already taken place. It is inevitable that front line services will be cut further, thereby increasing the work load on those remaining.
The police force has always been the service of last resort and a high proportion of their time is spent dealing with matters that do not fall into the category of notifiable crimes that need recording. Road safety, ASB incidents, missing persons, guarding crime scenes, dealing with those suffering with mental health issues and covering for other public bodies like the ambulance service etc.
The current Home secretary has stated only one objective for the police force and that is to reduce recorded crime.
Therefore, many police forces will soon face a stark choice about which of these "additional" services they can no longer provide.
They may also have to reduce the public expectations of those services which they can still be maintain, so resources are used effectively and not wasted on offences which have little hope of reaching a satisfactory conclusion..
Regardless of what the future of policing may be, the accurate and honest recording of crime is vital in earning the trust of the public and providing reliable data for future decisions to be based on. Anything less lets down the public and every other serving officer.