Over 800,000 crimes per year go unrecorded
A recent (18 November 2014) HMIC report into the police recording of crime led to criticism from all sides when it concluded that crime is under-recorded by 19% (approximately 800,000 crimes per year).
The problem was worst for crimes of violence against the person and sexual offences, where the under-recording rates are 33% and 26% respectively. Unsurprisingly, the Inspectorate described this failure to record such a significant proportion of reported crime as “wholly unacceptable”.
Nor was this the whole problem.
The Inspectorate found that 664 of the 3246 decisions to “no-crime” a crime record (cancel or remove it) they reviewed were incorrect; a failure rate of 20.5%. These included over 200 rapes and more than 250 crimes of violence against the person. In 800 of these cases, the victim wasn’t informed that the police had decided they had not been the object of a crime. Again, the Inspectorate’s conclusion is blunt:
“Offenders who should be being pursued by the police for these crimes are not being brought to justice and their victims are denied services to which they are entitled.”
It’s not the system
This was a national inspection and perhaps the most interesting, and damning, finding is that police forces vary enormously in their crime recording performance. In a few forces – such as West Midlands (who recorded 328 out of the 332 crimes which should have been recorded), South Wales (158/164) and Staffordshire (113/117) crime-recording is very good and shows that the recording system is not at fault. In more areas, such as Hampshire (67/112), Merseyside (88/134) and Greater Manchester (265/388) it is “unacceptably bad“. If you want to check out the performance of your local police service, see page 64 of the report.
What’s the problem?
Of most interest to me in the report is the search for why crime-recording is going wrong. The Inspectorate reviewed 1,159 decisions where they thought a crime should have been recorded from an incident record. They focused on those crimes reported by victims and first logged as incidents rather than crimes.
The graphic below shows their conclusions:
The inspectorate found three main reasons for not recording a crime:
- Inadequate supervision: that is no good reason is given for not recording. In these cases the police effectively decide that a crime did not occur. This accounts for almost a quarter of under-recorded crime. These errors are skewed toward burglary and criminal damage offences.
- Insufficient knowledge: Failures in the understanding of staff of specific aspects of the Home Office Counting Rules; these account for 21 percent of errors.
- Disengagement by the police or the victim: This accounts for over a quarter of the under-recorded crime. Seven percent of failures to record were due to the police disbelieving the victim when they should have recorded a crime. Victims are more likely to be disbelieved in relation to sexual offences, robberies and burglaries.
The one bright spot in the report is the finding that when police leaders realise how poor crime-recording is in their force, rapid improvements can be made which the Inspectorate says has already happened in Kent and Merseyside.
This is a report where Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has proven its worth by its willingness to acknowledge the scale of the problem and make clear conclusions in the strongest possible language:
“It is not the force which pays the highest price of crime-recording failures, but those victims and the wider community to whom justice may be denied. This can be especially true for the vulnerable, and those who suffer more serious crimes. Failure properly to record crime today may not only fail today’s victims; it places others at risk of becoming victims tomorrow.”
The Inspectorate makes three straightforward recommendations for the Home Office to revise their guidance in order to ensure crimes are recorded. These recommendations focus on:
- Clarifying the circumstances in which a crime must be recorded when reported by a person other than the victim.
- Ensuring independent supervision and audit of decisions for no-crime decisions.
- Ensuring that victims are always informed promptly of a no-crime decision.