Can we be confident police statistics accurately reflect the level of crime?

Official statistics

Anthony Stansfeld

Tim Starkey

First published in News

YES: Anthony Stansfeld, Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner

Yes, residents in Thames Valley can have confidence in their local crime statistics. I’ve recently given evidence on this matter to a number of Parliamentary Select Committees, and would like to take this opportunity to assure residents both in Oxfordshire and the wider Thames Valley region.

I am confident that Thames Valley Police is recording crime in a reliable, appropriate and ethical manner. HM Inspectorate of Policing last reviewed Thames Valley’s data integrity in late 2011. They reported that the force had one of the best accuracy rates for crime recording in England and Wales, writing: ‘The force has high standards when recording crimes and incidents in a consistent and accurate manner to correctly reflect the sequence of events as described by victims.’ The cornerstones of these findings were based upon strong police leadership that focused on ethical recording, along with good practices for recording crime consistently and accurately. I believe that the force continues to maintain these high standards. The inspectorate is currently reviewing data integrity in Thames Valley again as part of a wider national inspection, the results of which will be published again later this year. I look forward to receiving their update.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) works independently of the Chief Constable and regularly monitors performance data through a Home Office Performance Management System. An independent internal audit of the force’s performance management function was carried out in April 2013. The key controls for recording data were considered robust having been given full assurance for their adequacy and effectiveness.

I undertake regular public meetings in which the Chief Constable is held to account for delivery of my Police and Crime Plan. Reports of these meetings are on my website (thamesvalley-pcc.gov.uk). I have received a full assurance from the Chief Constable that Thames Valley’s crime statistics are accurate.

As Police and Crime Commissioner, one of my key messages is aimed at victims of crime. If you have been a victim of crime and have not reported this to the police, I would encourage you to do so through Thames Valley Police’s ‘101’ non-emergency telephone number.

Alternatively, if you wish to report a crime anonymously, then contact the Crimestoppers charity by calling 0800 555111.

NO: Tim Starkey, criminal lawyer and Labour candidate in the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner elections, November 2012.

The internet has transformed crime, but official statistics are failing to keep up. The 2013 Home Office ‘Commercial Victimisation Survey’ showed firms reported just two per cent of cyber crimes (such as phishing scams). This compares to nearly 100 per cent of vehicle thefts and over 80 per cent of burglaries. The pattern is similar among the public and is repeated in “remote” scams involving phone calls or junk mail. The “Think Jessica” campaign has highlighted how the old, dementia sufferers and the socially isolated are frequent targets of fraud and are loathe to report them from shame or a belief that the police won’t act. Estimates vary, but it’s clear that “Action Fraud” (the body tasked since April 2013 with recording fraud/computer offences) only captures a small part of the picture.

Coupled with under-reporting is the problem of under-recording. In November Pc Patrick, a “whistleblower” from the Met police, told MPs that massaging statistics to meet targets had become an “ingrained part of police culture” with, for example, street robberies being downgraded to thefts, attempted burglaries to criminal damage and some sexual offences being taken off the books altogether. In Kent a recent review found that up to 10 per cent of offences were wrongly recorded. The latest inspection of Thames Valley police was more positive, but was based on a sample of just 120 calls (out of 3,325 daily) and was two years ago. Since then new Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld has focused on targets. Will this create the same type of pressures that have led to problems elsewhere? Without an up-to-date audit it’s impossible to say.

Crime stats matter because they determine where money is spent. Skewed statistics mean skewed priorities. So what improvements can be made? Here are some ideas: s A new approach to cyber crime where victims can report to a third party body like the Internet Watch Foundation for child abuse images. That body would advise the victim on security and, after consulting with them, notify the force that a crime needs to be investigated.

s Postal workers can often spot repeat victims of mail scams through the sheer volume and type of mail. We need a system for them to raise the alarm.

s The facility to both securely report crimes online and track investigations online at a time convenient to the victim. s An independent body to provide routine oversight of crime figures. Forces need to know they are being scrutinised down to each of Thames Valley’s 14 Local Policing Areas.

I hope these ideas spark discussion.

Comments (2)

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7:44pm Wed 29 Jan 14

Sandy Wimpole-Smythe says...

Can we be confident police statistics accurately reflect the level of crime?

Without a doubt, NO, has it not already been proven that Police forces count what suits them and ignores everything else.
Can we be confident police statistics accurately reflect the level of crime? Without a doubt, NO, has it not already been proven that Police forces count what suits them and ignores everything else. Sandy Wimpole-Smythe
  • Score: 1

8:51am Thu 30 Jan 14

JonHarvey says...

The question posed was: Can we be confident police statistics accurately reflect the level of crime? PCC Stansfeld has not answered that question and instead points to whether the crimes that are reported to the police are then accurately categorised and recorded.

I want to believe that what was correct in 2011 when it was judged that Thames Valley Police "had one of the best accuracy rates for crime recording in England and Wales" is still true now. Perhaps Mr Stansfeld would like to publish details of how the public might access the "independent internal audit of the force’s performance management function was carried out in April 2013". Mr Starkey says that only 120 calls were investigated: how were thee 120 calls selected? Randomly? Why such a small sample?

Mr Starkey ~does~ answer the question however and highlights the gap between 'reported' crime and 'experienced' crime. There has always been a gap between the two and, like Mr Starkey, I think internet and junk mail fraud are on the increase and are not even captured by the generally more reliable Crime Survey of England and Wales conducted by the Office for National Statistics.

Of course, whether we are talking about real crime or reported crime levels, it is well known that people (not just police officers) can 'game' targets in order to give a good report. This happens across services, industry and public bodies which is why many firms now avoid top down targets (read about the Toyota Production System if you wish). And this is why Mr Stansfeld's reintroduction of spurious targets could well be so damaging not only to public confidence but also to real performance.

Finally, I would say that Mr Stansfeld seems quick to claim credit when reported crime trends go in a positive direction. Will he be so quick to claim responsibility when they go in the opposite direction as is happening in Aylesbury Vale where I live?

Violence against the person - UP 13%
Burglary non-dwelling - UP 31%
Vehicle crime - UP 12%
Theft from a person - UP 28%

I could go on. I am not saying that there are not some positive trends also - it is a rich and complex picture. Which brings me back to the gross over simplifications that targets often represent.

Perhaps Mr Stansfeld should be spending more of his energies 1) getting the CSEW sample size increased so that we and he could see trends at the level of Thames Valley (not possible at the moment) and 2) requesting that the ONS finds better ways to track internet and junk mail fraud.

http://ajustfuture.b
logspot.co.uk/
The question posed was: Can we be confident police statistics accurately reflect the level of crime? PCC Stansfeld has not answered that question and instead points to whether the crimes that are reported to the police are then accurately categorised and recorded. I want to believe that what was correct in 2011 when it was judged that Thames Valley Police "had one of the best accuracy rates for crime recording in England and Wales" is still true now. Perhaps Mr Stansfeld would like to publish details of how the public might access the "independent internal audit of the force’s performance management function [which] was carried out in April 2013". Mr Starkey says that only 120 calls were investigated: how were thee 120 calls selected? Randomly? Why such a small sample? Mr Starkey ~does~ answer the question however and highlights the gap between 'reported' crime and 'experienced' crime. There has always been a gap between the two and, like Mr Starkey, I think internet and junk mail fraud are on the increase and are not even captured by the generally more reliable Crime Survey of England and Wales conducted by the Office for National Statistics. Of course, whether we are talking about real crime or reported crime levels, it is well known that people (not just police officers) can 'game' targets in order to give a good report. This happens across services, industry and public bodies which is why many firms now avoid top down targets (read about the Toyota Production System if you wish). And this is why Mr Stansfeld's reintroduction of spurious targets could well be so damaging not only to public confidence but also to real performance. Finally, I would say that Mr Stansfeld seems quick to claim credit when reported crime trends go in a positive direction. Will he be so quick to claim responsibility when they go in the opposite direction as is happening in Aylesbury Vale where I live? Violence against the person - UP 13% Burglary non-dwelling - UP 31% Vehicle crime - UP 12% Theft from a person - UP 28% I could go on. I am not saying that there are not some positive trends also - it is a rich and complex picture. Which brings me back to the gross over simplifications that targets often represent. Perhaps Mr Stansfeld should be spending more of his energies 1) getting the CSEW sample size increased so that we and he could see trends at the level of Thames Valley (not possible at the moment) and 2) requesting that the ONS finds better ways to track internet and junk mail fraud. http://ajustfuture.b logspot.co.uk/ JonHarvey
  • Score: 0

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