Crime figures are never easy to interpret. Last year crime across the UK rose - for the first time in decades. But was this just for 2015 or does it mark the start of a new trend? We won’t know until we see what happens this year.
If it is the start of something, what is the cause? It may mean five years of cuts in police numbers are having an effect. It may be new ways of recording crime have made a difference. It may be both. In South Yorkshire, the rise was half the national average. But if this were to continue it would still be worrying. Even within the overall figures there are other changes that need thinking about. The number of burglaries and car thefts continues to fall, as it has for years. Again, how do we interpret this? It is no doubt due in part to targeted police activity, disrupting criminals. It is also partly the result of householders making their dwellings more secure. Neighbourhood Watch have also played a part. Car thefts are down because manufacturers have made vehicles more difficult to break into. But sometimes the increase in recorded crime is not what it seems. Sexual crimes seem to be up – and they may be increasing. On the other hand, people are becoming more willing to report them. They have more confidence than they did. What we are seeing may be an increase in reporting rather than an increase in these crimes. There is also under-reporting. In many ways this may be the most worrying of all – not least because we have no real idea how big the scale of under-reporting is. One of those under-reported areas is cybercrime, which is fast growing. Last year criminal activity netted £400 billion across the country. There are two problems. The first is a general ignorance on all our parts to realise how vulnerable we are. Both individuals and businesses are caught by phishing – email scams where the criminal seems to be a legitimate organisation but actually is tricking recipients into disclosing personal details. More insidious, we may be clicking on something that enables the attacker to do something we are simply unaware of. The second problem is businesses may be unwilling to report attacks that may damage their reputation. But they should think carefully. More damaging are the millions of fines the Information Commissioner will impose if they fail to protect clients’ personal details. People often say to me: ‘We want more bobbies on the beat.’ We do need more police officers. But there are some crimes that will need highly skilled police in front of computers, not necessarily on the beat.