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Case Studies

Recording of crime ‘unacceptably bad’

Some police recording of crime is unacceptably bad, say inspectors. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found on the national average, over a quarter of sexual offences and a third of violent crime reported to the police each year are not being recorded as crime. That is according to the HMIC report, Crime-recording: making the victim count.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: “The first duty of the police is to protect the public and reduce crime. A national crime-recording rate of 81 per cent is inexcusably poor. Failure properly to record crime is indefensible. This is not about numbers and dry statistics; it’s about victims and the protection of the public.

“The position in the case of rape and other sexual offences is a matter of especially serious concern. The inspection found 37 cases of rape which were not recorded as crimes. The national rate of under-recording of sexual offences (including rapes) as crimes was 26 per cent, and the national rate of incorrect decisions to no-crime rapes was 20 per cent. These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some forces have exemplary records in this respect, and some others are very bad. It is particularly important that in cases as serious as rape, these shortcomings are put right as a matter of the greatest urgency. In some forces, action is already being taken in this respect.

“The police should immediately institutionalise the presumption that the victim is to be believed. If evidence later comes to light which shows that no crime occurred, then the record should be corrected; that is how the system is supposed to work.

“Victims need and are entitled to support and assistance. They – and their communities – are entitled to justice. Failures in crime-recording can also increase the risks to victims and the community of the denial of justice. The police therefore need to take this subject very seriously.

“Trust in what the police tell people about crime is part of the essential trust which the public must have in the police.”

When surveyed, 95 per cent of respondents agreed that it is important that all crimes reported to the police are recorded accurately; but only 66 per cent trust the police to do so. The inspection found that even when crime was correctly recorded, many were removed or cancelled from the system as ‘no-crimes’. One in five of the 3,246 reviewed decisions to cancel a crime record was incorrect. This included over 200 rapes and more than 250 crimes of violence against the person.

The police should inform victims of these decisions, but in over 800 of the 3,246 decisions HMIC reviewed, there was no record of the victim having been told. This means that victims may be under the impression that their crimes are being investigated, when they are not.

The inspection found that decisions on the classification of crimes, once recorded, were correct in 96 per cent of cases.

Relatively little firm evidence was found of undue pressure being put on officers to manipulate figures, despite allegations and assertions to that effect. However, in a survey of over 17,000 police officers and staff, 39 per cent of 8,600 who said they had responsibility for making crime-recording decisions reported that performance and other pressures were distorting those decisions, and when presented with that picture, a number of forces admitted it. However, the inspection also found that forces are making considerable efforts to change the culture in which such practices were permitted in the past.

The inspection also looked at over 3,700 out-of-court disposals (consisting of cautions, penalty notices for disorder, cannabis warnings and community resolutions). In over a fifth of cases, HMIC found the offender should not have been given the sanction and should either have been charged and sent to court, or given a different and more severe out-of-court disposal. HMIC was also concerned that not all victims were asked for their views on the punishment, as the rules require.

Despite the clear framework and set of rules for the sound and consistent recording of crime by the police, the failures the inspection identified are attributable in the main to lapses in leadership and supervision of officers and staff, and poor knowledge of the rules.

HMIC has recommended that the College of Policing should establish standard training to be provided by each force which ensures that all officers and staff who are likely to record crimes or have supervision of crime-recording have a sound understanding of the relevant principles to be applied, and are periodically tested.


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