Here we go again… Crime figures – up and down, more times than a whore’s drawers… Should we trust the stats and more importantly, what do they actually mean?
The opening line of this post was not intended to offend however, it is intended to be cynical and flippant.
As Mark Easton (BBC Home Affairs Editor) points out in his article Burglar Bill and statistical insignificance; “It’s that time of year again when journalists scour the crime figures for England and Wales for reasons to send us whimpering to the locksmith.”
The British Crime Survey (BCS) of 45,000 people recently indicated that overall crime levels were up slightly, though researchers said this was not “statistically significant“. Officials regard the BCS as the most reliable indicator of crime trends. Separate data of crimes recorded by police showed crime fell 4% and domestic burglary was down 4%… (bbc.co.uk)
The British Crime Survey (BCS) asks people aged 16 and over living in households in England and Wales about their experiences of crime in the last 12 months. These experiences are used to estimate levels of crime in England and Wales. (Home Office). But why do we have to ‘estimate’ when all crime is (supposedly) recorded by the police?
It appears that some journalists and commentators are (finally) becoming just as sceptical about crime figures as those with first hand knowledge of the real situation… “If you’re looking for clarity about crime, these figures don’t provide it“…(Danny Shaw – BBC Home affairs correspondent).
“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”
The above is an often used line when arguing a point and, as Wikipedia explains; it is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and the tendency of people to disparage statistics that do not support their positions. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent’s point. This explanation of that well-known phrase is so poignant and correct.
Crime figures, like so many other forms of statistical information today, are often manipulated or interfered with to ‘prove’ a particular point. It’s a practice that has gone on for years and various individuals and/or organisation have become extremely adept at it, not least the police service. There was a time when the ‘manipulation’ was born out of a simple instruction from the local Detective Inspector;“don’t crime that son, we haven’t got a bloody body for it yet”.
However, what was once a widespread but simple attempt to improve the appearance of performance, is now something of a required trait in the police, one that is driven by senior commanders and their political masters. During my thirty years service as a police officer the Home Office Counting Rules, which govern how/when and which crimes the police actually record, could change substantially year on year, all dictated by the current political drive. A climate driven by a need for politicians to court the popularity of an electorate, often solely informed by the sensationalism of journalists.
As I’ve said before (on numerous occasions), the only way to have a true picture of crime is to record and report on it as per legal definition. No lumping of similar crimes into a single recordable figure, no sanctioned and non sanctioned detection. If we want to have any confidence in the statistics we need to be more honest in how we record the figures in the first place. A crime is a crime… Simples!
If you really want to try to understand crime figures and how they are manipulated, one of the greatest sources of information about current practices can be found at The Thin Blue Line.
The Crime Analysis Team at Nice 1 Limited (the company behind the site), are a group of professionals with a wealth of experience in business & law enforcement. Their aim is to raise public awareness about the true picture of policing and crime. They do this by providing in-depth analysis of trends & public domain statistics and explain the challenges facing policing in the UK today. If you have the remotest interest in what the statisticians and politicians are trying to get you to believe, I commend this site to you.
Don’t always (blindly) believe what you are told, at least not without researching it first.