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#Systems and Crime Statistics Fiddling

StatisticsIn the continuing Crime Statistics debacle, who really knows if crime is actually up or down any more? Now, a significant number of police officers and government officials have said they “despise” their role in the widespread practice of massaging official UK crime figures.

I’ve written about the issue of fudged crime statistics extensively in the past (see here), as indeed have many others.

Measurement of crime is based on two main statistical sources: the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and Police Recorded Crime (PRC) data. The CSEW and PRC provide strong evidence that the overall volume of crime has been falling. However, there is an accumulation of substantial and credible evidence indicating that the PRC data do not represent a full and accurate account of crime in England and Wales.

The publicly available PRC crime data is currently published by every month however; as mentioned above, these figures aren’t considered reliable. Even (a ‘leading independent crime data platform’), who provide analysis of those figures say; they have to be “cleaned for errors, typos etc. – of which there are still too many” before they can be used.

These facts have been known for many years (see here) but now, a report by a leading criminologist (see here) has also highlighted the issue. In addition, the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) report, Caught Redhanded: Why we can’t rely on Police Recorded Crime, was also published recently. Partly as a result of the PASC inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has stripped ‘Police Recorded Crime’ data of it’s Quality Assurance kite mark (see here).

Poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership…(PASC Report)

The ongoing issues around crime recording and reporting of crime statistics endorses the validity of that age-old adage… Lies, damned lies, and statistics! The phrase eloquently describes the persuasive power of numbers, particularly when statistics are used to bolster weak or flawed arguments.

I have to say, with all the furore around flawed crime statistics, the current situation has to be a welcome vindication for many. The ‘whistle blowing’ activities of James Patrick is just one such case in point (see here), but at what personal price?

But as a friend of mine pointed out… “People keep missing the point.” Dr Huw Evans PhD, an independent Organisational Development Consultant, previously a police officer and a Performance Specialist with the Audit Commission, offered the following observations and comments…

Everyone has known about messing around with recorded crime and detections for many decades – from before I joined the service in 1973. Every police officer at every level including ACPO have played with counting rules. Forces have put in place added bureaucracy at extra expense, to manage crime recording instead of quality assuring the work of frontline officers. Call handling processes are even designed to put people off calling the police.  It’s mostly internally focused about managing down demand rather than listening to the public. Largely dysfunctional in the system of policing…(Huw Evans)

The “dysfunctional” processes of the statistically illiterate, (alluded to by Huw above), are actually well-known in Intelligent Policing circles. These impacts of targets on police service delivery are also compounded in our ‘blame culture’ society.

With the continued predominance of ‘target driven’ process across policing, coupled with the distinct lack of true leadership and effective management, I can’t see much change occurring any time soon!

Note: You can find out more about the changes required within police management by purchasing Intelligent Policing: How Systems Thinking Methods Eclipse Conventional Management Practice. An easy to read guide containing – “sensible practical advice delivered in an engaging style that could really help detoxify modern policing” – by Inspector Simon Guilfoyle.