Police crime statistics lose their ‘national statistics’ status

by SophieR on January 30, 2014

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ons crime reporting ukThe gold-standard Office of National Statistics (ONS) status has been withdrawn from the police’s crime statistics by the UK Statistics Authority.  In its ‘Assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics’ report published on 15 January 2014 the Authority stated that it took the action as it has found, ‘accumulating evidence that suggests the underlying data on crimes recorded by the police may not be reliable.’ The report can be found here on the Authority’s website.

The Authority is bound by a code of practice that requires National Statistics to be, ‘managed and disseminated to high standards; and are explained well’, and has 16 requirements that need to be met for statistics to gain ONS status. Principle 4 of the UK Statistics Authority – sound methods and assured quality states, ‘Statistical methods should be consistent with scientific principles and internationally recognised best practices, and be fully documented. Quality should be monitored and assured taking account of internationally agreed practices.’ Whether the police statistics meet this requirement has been called into question by a review of the quality of crime data conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

Using data from all 43 police forces in England and Wales as well as the British Transport Police the HMIC report concluded, ‘that there remained a wide variation in the quality of decision-making associated with the recording of crime’, and that, ‘this variation has the potential to impact on the levels of recorded crime, particularly for those forces that make poorer decisions.’ The HMIC undertook an in-depth analysis of the Kent Police Force finding, ‘more needed to be done before the people of Kent could be confident that the crime and resolution figures published by the force were as accurate as they could be.’ With this analysis the police’s data could not meet the UK Statistics Authorities exacting requirements.

The previous report from the UK Statistics Authority was published in April 2011, before the effects of the government’s austerity measures fully impacted the police’s reporting capabilities. Police numbers hit a nine year low in 2012 as their budgets were cut with many police authorities diverting resources to maintaining frontline and beat duties meaning a back seat for administration tasks, such as crime recording.  However, recent admissions by senior officers and an inquiry by the police watchdog point the finger at pressure being exerted onto police forces by senior officials in order to create the image of declining crime rates.

The doubts into the validity of the police’s reporting of crime statistics have been added to recently by a number of admissions from senior police officer’s stating that pressure from police commissioners to show crime rates are falling. The chief constable for Derbyshire, Mike Creedon speaking at the Association of Chief Police Officers conference said, ‘we are still putting pressure on officers to do all they can to manipulate and create crime reductions’, adding, ‘I don’t think they do it because they are inherently corrupt but because pressure is put down to reduce it.’  In December 2013 the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor told a Home Affairs Select Committee that he was almost certain such manipulation is going on and that the real question was, ‘where, how much, how severe?’

The ONS crime statistics along with the Crime Survey for England and Wales, formerly the British Crime Survey are the two main sources of information into the amount of crime occurring in the country. The Home Office asserts that the Crime Survey is a more accurate measure as it is a victim study and includes crimes which go unreported. The data from this report has shown a decline in crime since 1995. Explanations for this decline have been offered including increased security technology in cars and homes, falls in alcohol and drug related offences amongst 16-25 year olds, and even that this age group now put their bored vandalising energies into their smartphones. The exact reasons will no doubt be mulled over by criminologists for years to come, but as they back up the now discredited police statistics it begs the question as to why the police reporting should have been so manipulated; possibly in order to disguise the full impact of austerity on the service, or so that it can claim success despite reduced resources.

About the author

This post was contributed by Forbes Solicitors of Blackburn, Preston, Chorley, Accrington, Manchester and Leeds.

I'm a legal writer with interests in criminal law and like to keep up to date with legal news and latest legislative developments.

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