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Police stats ‘unreliable’

There is strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas. This is due to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.”

The UK Statistics Authority has already stripped Police Recorded Crime data of the quality kite mark, “National Statistics”. The Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”.

Numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime. Associated “attitudes and behaviour… have become ingrained, including within senior police leadership” raising “broader concerns about policing values”. This presents officers with “a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.”

Such are the views of a Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) parliamentary report, titled Caught Redhanded: Why we can’t rely on Police Recorded Crime. The committee MPs say that they “deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms” and accuse the police of adopting a “flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.”

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the PASC, says: “Poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police. Their compliance with the core values of policing, including accountability, honesty and integrity, will determine whether the proper quality of Police Recorded Crime data can be restored.”

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 evidence that the police under records crime may exaggerate the rate of decrease in crime in some areas and category of crime.

After the investigation into the Metropolitan Police Sapphire Unit, PASC says that the need for more research into variations in the recording of rape across police forces is a ‘damning indictment of police complacency , inertia and lack of leadership’.

The committee says that the Home Office, ONS and UK Statistic Authority have repeatedly missed opportunities to ensure the integrity and quality of PRC data. It also calls for an investigation into the treatment of the whistle-blower who sparked the inquiry. Some Police and Crime Commissioners consider the perverse incentives created by targets to be so serious that they have dropped all targets and the committee says this should be extended to all forces.

Bernard Jenkin said: “The most depressing part of this inquiry is the way that the Metropolitan Police appear to have treated my constituent, PC James Patrick. He says he has been forced to resign from the Metropolitan. Acting as a whistleblower, he tried to highlight serious concerns about the validity of crime statistics, and the target culture. Most police forces are still in denial about the damage targets cause, both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour.

“We are indebted to PC Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service, despite intense pressures to the contrary. The new police code of ethics places a duty on officers to report misconduct among their peers: the systems enabling police officers to do this must be made much clearer and more accessible, and the Home Office must clarify the route open to police whistleblowers who have exhausted internal channels within their police forces.

“We asked the Home Office for this clarification before we finalised our report, but they replied too late. We have published their response on our website now. We are calling for HMIC to investigate the Metropolitan Police Service in respect of the treatment of PC Patrick. We have grave doubts that the Metropolitan Police Service has treated PC Patrick fairly or with respect and care.

“Crime statistics are central to our understanding of the nature and prevalence of crime in England and Wales. They provide crucial information for the police which helps them to decide how to deploy their manpower resources. Lax supervision of recorded crime data risks reducing the police’s effectiveness in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime.”

The MPs on the committee say that senior police leaders must emphasise data integrity and accuracy, not targets; they should place new emphasis on values and ethics, especially in the Metropolitan Police.

For the full report online visit the UK Parliament website.

ACPO view

Speaking for ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) in the National Policing Performance Management Business Area, Deputy Chief Constable Francis Habgood said: “Chief constables need and want accurate crime data so that they can understand the threats to our communities and direct our resources effectively to cut crime and protect those we serve. It is also vital that the public trust that if they are victim of crime it will be recorded accurately, investigated fully and that police will take appropriate action. Public confidence, after increasing in recent years, remains stable but we must always to strive to meet the highest standards to ensure that trust is deserved.

“Nobody joins the police service with the intention of recording crime inaccurately. As the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) finds, the vast majority of police officers joined the police in order to serve as dedicated and courageous professionals, motivated by their vocation to protect the public. However, the service has not always met the data quality the public expects.

“The report raises concerns about the use of numerical targets relating to crime reduction but recognises that there has been a gradual shift towards a range of measures to monitor performance against priorities. Performance management has an important part to play in achieving local priorities and the intelligent use of targets can support police activity, if focused correctly on victim outcomes.

“Working with Police and Crime Commissioners, chief constables have an important role to play in building a culture of ethical crime reporting that complements the service’s wider values, laid out in the draft Code of Ethics developed by the College of Policing. We will continue to work hard to achieve greater consistency and accuracy across the country.”


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