Fall in crime in England and Wales 'may be exaggerated'

The scene in Stockport, where an off-duty police officer was killed at the weekend Violent crime makes headlines but overall crime against adults fell in the 12 months to September 2012

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A study of crime trends in England and Wales has suggested the fall in offences recorded by police may have been exaggerated.

The Office for National Statistics said the "rate of reduction" in recorded crime "may overstate" the decrease.

Shadow policing minister David Hanson called for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to look at the apparent discrepancies.

The Home Office said there was "no simple answer" to the apparent anomaly.

The ONS compared certain categories of crimes and found police-recorded offences had fallen by 33% over the previous five years, while data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales suggested a decline of 17%.

The ONS also published crime figures for the 12 months to the end of September 2012, which showed continued falls in virtually every category.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said police recorded 7% fewer crimes than the year before, while the Crime Survey of England and Wales indicated there had been a "statistically significant" fall of 8%.


A decade ago new methods of counting crimes were introduced across England and Wales to iron out inconsistencies between police forces and ensure that when a victim reported a crime, it was properly logged.

The rule changes came about after huge variations were discovered in crime-recording rates. For the first five years, under the new system, there was little difference between the reduction in crimes under the police figures and the decline measured by the Crime Survey of England and Wales, suggesting the new rules were being followed closely.

But since 2007, there has been a marked discrepancy: have the police simply become lax in their approach - or are they deliberately cooking the books?

The ONS does not provide the answers - but HM Inspectorate of Constabulary might. Last year it examined the way offences were recorded - its report will make interesting reading.

'Informal pressure'

ONS statistician John Flatley said the bigger falls in police-recorded crimes may be due to pressures to meet targets on crime reduction and detections.

"It's more the culture and informal pressure of having targets and expectations," he said.

Other possible reasons for under-recording suggested by the ONS include more low-level crimes being dealt with informally and outside the formal crime-recording system, with officers given greater discretion.

Mr Flatley said it was also "possible" that reductions in police budgets and officers meant fewer offences were being recorded.

He said as resources were more stretched the "balance shifts" to less compliance with crime-recording systems.

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said crime was continuing to fall and was now at the lowest level since the survey began.

"Police reform is working. We have swept away central targets, reduced bureaucracy and these figures show forces are rising to the challenge of doing more with less. Many have achieved significant reductions in crime with reduced budgets," he said.

'Build trust'

Shadow policing minister Mr Hanson said: "There are warning signs for the police and Home Office, with the increase in theft. And earlier this week the British Retail Consortium's survey showed an increase of over 15% in the cost of retail crime alongside a drop in the proportion of crime reported by retailers to the police from 48% to 16%.

"This is perhaps why the Office for National Statistics has begun to express concern that apparent reductions in police recorded crime may be exaggerated.

"The home secretary should examine urgently whether, as the ONS suggest, the cuts to police budgets mark a return to fewer crimes being recorded by the police."

A Home Office spokesman said: "As the ONS highlights in their report, there is no simple answer as to why there has been some variation in crime trends between the Crime Survey and police-recorded crime. The two measurements were always intended to assess different things and have different strengths."

The spokesman said the Home Office had transferred the statistics to the ONS to "build public trust" and was "continuing to work with forces to ensure accurate data".

The Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on statistics, Douglas Paxton, said the study had noted the quality of crime recording by the UK police was "amongst the best in the world".

"Ensuring our data is as robust as it can be has a direct impact on public trust and confidence and we will continue to ensure forces continue to meet the national standard when it comes to recording crimes," said Mr Paxton, Deputy Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    The police do too much paper work? red tape? what a load of rubbish! they do not even need to attend court anymore to give evidence like they used to,in many cases they just write a load of tosh down and their report is read into evidence, so there is a day saved, and as I said previously, just nip to Tesco where I live and you will nearly always find a couple shopping on duty, car in car park.

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Crime falling in a mega recession,not really likely,is it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    Good BBC work, as usual...(not). In the paragraph " Build Trust" what type of person starts off a sentence with the word "And"

    Is this the reason why the reports are not attributed to the author, who really needs a few lessons in English !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    @531 Didn't think it was possible for the Police to be even more useless than they are now. Keep the good work up with the speed cameras and making tv shows to show how arrogant you are. Nick the odd drunk l8 at night cos they called u a name take up a van 2 cops a desk sarge and cell let em go in the morning and moan aint enuff of ya

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    All national figures are being manipulated to give justification for the cuts in police and prison closures, this government can not be trusted SIMPLES !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    How many times have we heard about police not attending when called out! That is the only reasoning behind a so-called fall in criminal activity. I see no sign of that happening and to make matters worse - there are Liberalist and some Tories and Labour politicians toying with the idea of decriminalising drugs - so that the crime figures can be reduced even further?

  • rate this

    Comment number 533.


    I admire your easy explanation, isn't it wonderful that a topic that statisticians and consultants would be careful with is solved in such a short time?

    There I was thinking about creative figures, data manipulation and dodgy records from the police.

    All we have to do is flood the streets with police and the crime rate will go up. Fantastic.

    Please offer more of your wisdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 532.

    395 - Tomfer has hit the nail on the head. The crimes still occur but it is how they are recorded. If a police force can reclassify a crime to make the figures appear better than they actually are, they will do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 531.

    A so called drop in recorded crime is easily explained. With fewer officers, there are less of us to be out proactively patrolling and finding crime. For instance, a person carrying an offensive weapon is a crime, but it would not be recorded unless this person was stopped by the police, found to be carrying the weapon, and arrested. With fewer officers, this is less likely, thus a drop in crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 530.

    And this is a surprise to any one.I know years ago locally they had issues with theft from motor vehicles so the next year they re-classified this as vehicle tampering which did not form part of the reported stats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 529.

    Recorded crime has gone up in the seventies though. Thanks BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 528.

    I wondered how long it would take to expose this 'discrepancy'.
    Far to much effort and staff put into the 'figures', rather than a 'let's just go and try to detect this' attitude.
    And peoples' careers have been hung on these 'successes' as well - no doubt.
    Can't wait to see the fall out from this.
    A few twitchy bums no doubt!

  • rate this

    Comment number 527.

    524.flatfoot64 "We are all being conned by Mrs May"
    Careful that's Ms. May
    Stay where you are, special squad are on there way....

  • rate this

    Comment number 526.

    If you torture statistics long enough, they will eventually tell you what you want to hear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 525.

    Fall in crime 'may be exaggerated' is being exaggerated by the BBC.
    There HAS been a fall in crime whilst also reducing the cost of policing, as the Tories said.
    The leftist scaremongering has not worked so, more headline misinformation and spin about the figures.
    Boring BBC bias

  • rate this

    Comment number 524.

    If you ask insurance companies how many people have injuries in car crashes they will differ vastly to those figures recorded in A&E or the local Drs. Stats can say anything you want them to say. If you change the counting rules as to how crime is recorded you can show a reduction...simples. Crime IS rising but recorded crime is falling. We are all being conned by Mrs May and the MilkyBar Kid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 523.

    240.agw62 "got to be missing for three days before logged as stolen".

    Yes, but to be fair we had to redefine theft to prevent most MPs being locked up....

  • rate this

    Comment number 522.

    Every time I hear something about our police, it usually involves an element of corruption, and statistics they put out seem to be no exception. The sooner every offence, no matter how trivial, is logged as a crime (speeding, ASB, verbal assault, damage to property etc), the sooner we'll see that crime in the UK has risen year on year. It's just the way they play the numbers game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 521.

    Police and politicians being less than honest? Wow! Who would have thought?

  • rate this

    Comment number 520.

    A few days back a bunch of kids threw paint over 6 cars in our street...everyone ran out & cleaned the cars and no-one reported it - no point......


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