Monthly Archives: April 2013

Crime Statistics: Fact or Fiction?

Europe

Crime statistics for England and Wales show an 8% drop on police figures and a 5% reduction in the ‘official’ crime survey figures (source guardian.co.uk). That has to be good news – doesn’t it? We’re winning the ‘war’ against crime – aren’t we? How do we compare with the remainder of Europe?

As any previous visitors here will know; I’m one of those who is often sceptical about ‘official’ crime statistics (see example post) but I’m not alone with my views. Several others continually question the validity of our crime figures. In recent years, the Thin Blue Line Blog  has probably done more than most in its attempt to; comprehensively unravel all the ‘spin’ and book cooking disguising the true figures.

Crime statistics attempt to provide statistical measures of the crime in societies. Given that crime is usually secretive by nature, measurements of it are likely to be inaccurate…(wikipedia.org)

To be fair, our ‘official’ statistics in England & Wales are supplemented by the results of the crime survey; a process that since 1982, provides additional figures (designed) to supplement the actual number of crimes recorded by the police. The idea behind the survey is to provide a more ‘balanced’ picture of crime trends (see crimesurvey.co.uk) by courting personal opinion and perception.

The overall picture, based upon both sets of data shows that; despite the downward trends, Britain still remains among the more violent countries in western Europe. Still a sad fact but thankfully, the statistical decline is more rapid here than anywhere else in Europe. So it appears that, mostly due to our media perhaps, we still have a tendency to inflate the true picture?

Statisticians say the crime rate has halved since it peaked in 1995 and appears to be at its lowest level for more than 30 years…(guardian.co.uk)

So if crime is actually falling, all we now have to do is reduce the fear of crime, whether or not that fear is based upon fact or fiction i.e. real or perceived. It’s something our police forces (and the government) have been trying to do for some time.

The fear of crime refers to the fear of being a victim of crime as opposed to the actual probability of being a victim of crime. The fear of crime is said to have been in Western culture for “time immemorial”…(wikipedia.org)

It’s an important factor that was also raised by Ally Fogg writing in The Guardian when he said; Crime is falling. Now lets reduce fear of crime – a nobel thought but is it one that’s actually viable? The Twitter notification informing the world about his article prompted me to reply in my usual cynical manner. 

Easy to ‘cook’ the books but mind engineering far more difficult (@DaveHasney)

Despite covering most, if not all the social, economic and scientifically derived factors leading to our ‘fear’ of crime in his article, Ally Fogg actually alluded to the fact that it is never easy to make significant in roads into this problem. Moving towards his summing up he said; “Psychology has taught us how cognitive biases skew our perceptions of risk.”

Crime (and anti social behaviour) are undoubtedly an important issue for all our communities; it’s one of the main reasons why we now have  Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP). Groups that were established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to co-ordinate action on crime and disorder. But more than ten years on since their inception, we still have that ‘fear’ in our communities.

The next natural question to ask is, are they actually achieving what they set out to do? If so, it’s not that apparent. It’s probably the reason why so many similar questions are raised (but usually only partly answered), by sociologists, criminologists, politicians and journalists ad infinitum.

The prevailing mood is always that the world is going to hell in a handcart, and woe betide any political candidate who suggests otherwise…(Ally Fogg)

The majority of these ‘crimes’ (perceived or real), may well be ‘low level quality of life issues’ however; they still serve to continually blight many of our neighbourhoods. In addition, they still ruin people’s lives and probably more important now than in the past, they also have a substantial financial impact upon the public and private sector purse. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost revenue and (arguably) wasted expenditure trying to combat them, are continually flushed down the public service drains of our society each year.

The total cost of violence and crime to the UK economy is estimated at £124bn per annum. To put that in perspective, a further 50% reduction in crime would cover the cost of every hospital built-in the country over the past 13 years…(guardian.co.uk)

These financial figures are even more worrying (and annoying) when you consider; we’re continually trying to rectify problems caused by a relatively small minority in our society. Financial impacts aside but with self-preservation of party political popularity no doubt to the fore; it’s hardly surprising that successive Governments have not only set targets for reducing crimes such as burglary, robbery and car theft, but for some time now, they have also aimed to reduce the fear of crime.

Now I’m not one of those who is easily swayed in his opinion or beliefs; especially not when it comes to the emotive type of media headlines so favoured by our tabloid journalists. I can also read between the lines of often politically biased broadsheet  journals. As it would appear many commentators to Fogg’s article were prone to mention. Ergo, I’m not one of those who’s perception is as a consequence of our media.

I fully understand all the ‘tricks’ of the trade utilised by police forces and politicians to artificially illustrate the realities of crime. I live in probably the ‘safest’ area of England & Wales (according to crime statistics) but I still continually see, hear about and take note of many of the criminal and/or anti-social realities impacting upon our society. I also have a pretty good handle on how police resources are deployed to deal with many of those issues.

I know that perception and reality are often at odds with each other however; despite a still relatively small number of ‘crimes’ per capita, crime actually rose almost year on year between 1950 and in 2004/05 (civitas.org.uk). Strange how after an almost tenfold increase in that time (see graph), we’re suddenly expected to believe crime is decreasing year on year. It’s also hardly any wonder that, irrespective of numerous ‘satisfaction’ surveys, the word on the street (rightly or wrongly) is, “our police are failing us!”

Despite all the contrived spin designed to mitigate against the general (but hopefully mostly unfounded) perceptions about our police, the public rarely see police officers these days, let alone experience any personal interaction with them. When they do, it appears that with far too much regularity, their experience often leaves a sour taste. I’ve said it in the past , perhaps the police are the engineers of their own demise?

When communities are continually ‘sold’ high expectations about the capabilities of their police, and those massively reduced resources can’t physically match up to that expectation, is it any wonder we’re unintentionally generating negative perceptions about policing capability?  And what they [the police] are doing about crime.

There are those who will argue that policing is more of a scientific and intelligence lead process today, it’s not just about visibility and response times. It is a combination of proactive and reactive methodology. I agree but I also worry that; far too often it appears the ‘proactive’ aspects are little more than short-term operations for PR opportunities and the ‘reactive’ part, well that is often late or (sometimes rightly) not delivered at all.

Add a widely held negative perception of policing, to a predominant (unfounded?) belief we live in a society of high crime levels and you have a recipe for a pressure cooker of public angst. But policing and crime, or indeed the fear of crime, are only the window on the actual problems. It is far too simplistic to lay all the blame at the front door of your local Police Station (always assuming you can actually find one).

As I’ve pointed out before, with regular monotony; political spin, PR hype and ‘cooking’ of records will never realise the actual results we’re continually striving to achieve.

If we compare ourselves with other countries or with our own history, the crime rate is high… Rather than making it seem that people are in the grip of irrational fears and implying that these fears are whipped up by the tabloids, the Home Office could more usefully direct its energy at reducing crime and recognising the objective seriousness of the situation…(civitas.org.uk)

To find the real answers to the problems resulting from crime, we need to examine the very foundations of our society. Wealth (or lack of it), parenting skills, quality of education, health and wellbeing and yes policing, along with the remainder of the Criminal Justice System, all have a part to play in crime reduction. Their actions/inactions all have an impact upon the stability of our social framework.

There is no quick fix available and certainly no immediate personal kudos to be gained here for any senior police officers, Police & Crime Commissioner or politician. That’s a fact they would all do well to remember. We need to invest more time, effort and public cash, into the root causes of crime. Always assuming we really want to see some tangible results. Or, could “reducing the fear of crime” be just another example of political spin?

Whatever your perceptions of crime, the closing lines of Crime Watch which went something like – “Please remember, violent crime is actually much rarer than a lot of what we show, please do not have nightmares, sleep tight” – are relevent here!

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