Crime: no lie, but some confusion

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There is no “lie” about falling crime statistics while the public see crime increasing. It is entirely the other way about. As widely reported last week, police recorded an increase in nearly all types of crime nearly everywhere last year, continuing a three year trend.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says that improvements in police crime recording, (previously so unreliable that it lost its National Statistic status in 2014, and acknowledged to require further improvement), cannot entirely explain the increase, and that fewer offences are recorded than should be, especially violent and sexual offences. At the same time, we the public have been saying that we are victims of fewer crimes, as we have done almost every year since 1995, via the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). This survey interviews a large random sample of households, and also counts attempted crimes and those not reported to the police. All figures can be seen at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice.

It is hard to reconcile these opposing trends. It’s unlikely that we are simultaneously more willing to report crime to the police and less willing to admit to a survey that we have been victims. Crime disproportionately affects the poor, single parent families, the sick or disabled, and minorities, but their experience as reported to the CSEW is also of fewer crimes. The same is true by geographical area. Unlike the CSEW, police reporting includes crimes against businesses and institutions, and against society in general, (such as drug offences), but even without these, the difficulty remains.

It may be that more people are the victims of multiple crimes than before, which would be captured by police reporting but not by the CSEW, and the ONS is working on this idea. Until it is explained, there is a dual risk of the public disbelieving all statistics, and of directing scarce police resources only to the most visible crimes.

Another serious concern is that the CSEW has only just begun to measure fraud and computer crime, and the initial figures show that such crimes are about 80% under-reported, compared to 40% under-reporting for most crimes. When committed against an individual, fraud is more common than theft, and computer virus attack more common than criminal damage. These crimes are no less devastating for the victim than the older sort, and urgently need greater focus and resource, which must be paid for. Austerity not only causes families to need foodbanks, but also an inadequate response to criminality. Bluntly, refusing to increase taxes has not only made us poorer, it has made us less safe.

J Robin Hughes

Towngate Road, Worrall, S35