A complex picture
Last week’s (18 October 2018) crime figures (which report on crime for the year ending in June 2018) generated considerable media coverage as usual.
Crime statistics (produced by the Office for National Statistics) rely on two main sources: offences recorded by the police and the results from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
Both sources have limitations. Police records are subject to regular, and often quite significant, ways in which particular crimes are committed. There are also very large numbers of minor offences which are either never reported to or recorded by the police.
On the other hand, CSEW does not ask respondents about their experience of very serious crimes and only people in mainstream residential accommodation are surveyed. Therefore CSEW records no business crime and also excludes the experiences of those living in institutions without a permanent address, many of whom we know to be extremely likely to be the victims of crime.
So, what is happening to crime?
This is the summary from the Office of National Statistics:
The latest figures show no change in the total level of crime but this hides variation in different crime types. Over the last year, we have seen rises in some types of theft and in some lower-volume but higher-harm types of violence. This is balanced by a fall in the high-volume offence of computer misuse and no change in other high-volume offences such as overall violence, criminal damage and fraud. To put these figures into context, 2 out of 10 adults experienced crime in the latest year.
Rise in serious violent crime
There has been no change in commonly occurring types of violent crime, but increases in some lower-volume, higher-harm types of violence. Analysis of the Crime Survey suggests that the level of lower-harm violent offences are stable. However, police recorded crime data and NHS data give more insight into the lower-volume but higher-harm violence that the survey does not capture well. These data sources show:
a continued rise in the number of police recorded offences involving knives or sharp instruments (up 12% to 39,332)
the number of admissions to hospital in England for assaults involving a sharp instrument has been increasing
the number of homicides increased for the fourth year in a row. Excluding terrorist attacks, there was a 14% spike in homicides compared to the last year with a total of 719 offences.
An 18% rise in police recorded sexual offences is likely to reflect improvements made by the police in how they record crime, and in people being more willing to report a sexual offence.
a decrease in the number of police recorded offences involving firearms (down by 5% to 6,362).
Many of these lower-volume, higher-harm types of violence tend to be concentrated in London and other metropolitan areas.
Other crime trends
- The latest estimate from the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed an 8% increase in theft compared with the previous year. The overall increase in theft was not driven by one type of theft, but non-significant increases across many subcategories.
- There was a 30% decrease in computer misuse offences estimated by the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW; to 1,121,000).
- Public order offences increased by 30% to 409,191. A large part of this increase is likely to reflect improvements and changes to recording practices. However, it is possible that genuine increases in public disorder may have contributed to this rise.
- There was a 22% increase in police recorded robbery offences to 79,117. The statisticians think that only a small part of this increase is due to increased recording so there is a real rise in the number of robberies.
Although we are not seeing a growth in overall crime levels, it does seem that more serious crime is on the rise again after many years of decline. Of particular concern is the sustained rise in the number of murders over the last four years.
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