In its latest report entitled ‘Crime Recording: Making the Victim Count’, encompassing the results of what is the most extensive inspection and analysis of crime recording carried out to date, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) finds that the national average rate of under-recording of crime is almost one-in-five.
The inspection was designed to review the integrity of police-recorded crime data (it was not an inspection or inquiry into the integrity of the police service). In examining over 8,000 reports of crime incidents detailed to the police, the HMIC found the national average of under-recording of crime to be 19% (which amounts to over 800,000 crimes each year).
During the audit period November 2012-October 2013, police were found to be less likely to record violent and sexual offences as crimes than they were other crime types. The inspection also found that, on the national average, over a quarter of sexual offences and a third of violent crimes reported to the police each year are not being recorded as crime.
Every force was inspected, and the results from each have been used to build a statistically representative figure on a national basis. HMIC emphasises that the picture at a local level is mixed. Not every force is the same. In a few forces, crime recording is very good and highlights the fact that this procedure can be carried out very well and the statistics trusted. In some other forces, though, HMIC suggests the process is “unacceptably bad”.
During and since the inspection, some forces have taken significant steps to improve their procedures, a fact which is naturally welcomed by HMIC.
National crime recording rate is “inexcusably poor”
Commenting on the report’s contents, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: “The first duty of the police service is to protect the public and reduce crime. A national crime recording rate of 81% is inexcusably poor. Failure to properly record crime is indefensible. This is not about numbers and dry statistics. It’s about victims and the protection of the public.”
Winsor continued: “The position in the case of rape and other sexual offences is a matter of particularly 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%, while the national rate of incorrect decisions to no-crime rapes was 20%. These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some police forces have exemplary records in this respect while others are very bad. It’s particularly important that, in criminal 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.”
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary also said: “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’s how the system is supposed to work.”
Importantly, Winsor explained: “Victims need – and are entitled to – support and assistance. They – and their communities – are also entitled to justice. Failures in crime recording can also increase the risks to victims and the community of the denial of justice. The police need to take this subject very seriously. Trust in what the police tell others about crime is part of the essential trust which the public must have in the police service.”
The public’s view is unequivocal. When surveyed, 95% of respondents agreed that it’s important all crimes reported to the police are recorded accurately, but only 66% trust the police to do so. The inspection found that even when crime was correctly recorded, many incidents were removed or cancelled from the system as: ‘No crimes’. One-in-five of the 3,246 reviewed decisions to cancel a crime record were incorrect. This included over 200 rapes and more than 250 crimes of violence against the person.
The police should inform victims of these decisions, states HMIC, but in over 800 of the 3,246 decisions reviewed for this inspection 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 in truth they’re not.
The inspection found that, once recorded, decisions on the classification of crimes were correct in 96% of cases.
Undue pressure placed on police officers?
Relatively little firm evidence was found of undue pressure being put on police officers to manipulate figures, despite allegations and assertions to that effect.
However, in a survey of over 17,000 police officers and staff, 39% of the 8,600 individuals who said they had responsibility for making crime recording decisions reported that performance and other pressures were distorting those decisions. When presented with that picture, a number of forces admitted it.
That said, the inspection also found that forces are making considerable efforts to change the culture in which such practices have been permitted in the past.
The HMIC 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 identified by HMIC are, in the main, attributable to lapses in leadership and supervision of officers and staff in addition to 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 in that respect).
A number of forces are doing well in recording crime and have already tackled these issues. Some forces, including Kent and Merseyside, have moved swiftly to make improvements since the HMIC inspections. They’re already implementing changes and prioritising victims’ needs. This demonstrates how rapidly improvements can be made.
Number of crimes dismissed is “alarming”
In response to the HMIC’s findings, Adam Pemberton (assistant CEO of Victim Support) stated: “The sheer number of crimes that have been dismissed by the police is alarming. It’s equally astonishing that so many victims are not told if the police later decide that no crime took place.”
Pemberton stressed: “Each mistake represents a victim losing their chance for justice and support. Victims of crime rely on the police service to believe them and to investigate crime properly, and they should be able to trust them to do just that.”