South East Wales

Gwent Police crime levels: Force gives defence after review

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Media captionGwent's chief constable said officers used common sense recording crime

Gwent Police has defended its crime levels after a report suggested they may be up to 8% higher than official figures - which recorded the biggest fall in Wales and England last year.

Police and Crime Commissioner Ian Johnston ordered a review, which examined 50 selected incidents in July.

It found half of these were wrongly recorded for various reasons.

But the Gwent Police and Crime Panel heard officers did not manipulate any figures under pressure from management.

The role of the police and crime panel is to support and challenge the police and crime commissioner.

The report, presented to the panel, said the issue over the figures was more to do with the interpretation of Home Office rules.

One example was a boy who stole from his mother, who called Gwent Police for help. It was not recorded as a crime, at her request, although technically it should have been included.

Home Office figures show:

  • Gwent Police had the highest crime reduction rate in Wales and England from September 2011-2012, with a 20% fall
  • During the period, 34,903 crimes were recorded, compared to 43,395 in the previous 12 months
  • Significant falls included burglary (down 25%), robbery (31%), vehicle crime (31%) and criminal damage (23%)

Friday's meeting followed a row between Mr Johnston and former chief constable Carmel Napier, who quit in June after the commissioner told her to retire or be removed.

An internal review, ordered by Mr Johnston, looked at 50 incidents out of around 1,000 over a 10-day period in July, after Ms Napier had left the force.

Incidents were selected where it appeared a crime had been committed but had not been recorded.

The review found more than half were wrongly recorded for various reasons, including the wishes of the victims.

While the report accepts that the small sample makes "any realistic assessment of limited value" it said there could be between 4% and 8% more crimes per year.

Ms Napier previously strongly denied manipulating the statistics.

The report's authors were asked to determine if the area "can have confidence in Gwent Police's crime figures".

The review found no evidence among investigating officers that high interest in crime statistics by their superiors affected their decision-making.

The report said: "They stated in simple terms, 'if it was a crime they would record it as a crime'."

It added: "The fact that there is no evidence of overt influence on crime recording is significant and the people of Gwent, the police and crime commissioner and chief constable can have confidence in Gwent Police's crime figures."

However, there was "evidence to show that officers had not recorded all crimes in line with the relevant Home Office counting rules" mostly because of "misinterpretations of the rules" as well as a "desire to support the wishes of the victim".

Image caption Ian Johnston said new chief constable Jeff Farrar was the lead officer in the UK for statistics

Officers were also "selective over their wording" when closing a log, and "underplayed" certain issues, it said.

It advised that Home Office counting rules should be "more prominently available".

In conclusion, the report said the chief constable should:

  • Reiterate his support and guidance for officers
  • Widen future reviews to include more feedback from victims
  • Simplify the internal audit system which monitors statistics, while increasing staffing levels.

But Newport West MP Paul Flynn had called on Mr Johnston to apologise to Ms Napier and said police should be allowed to get on with their jobs rather than collate crime figures.

Mr Flynn said of the data: "If they are so unreliable why don't we just forget about them and not tell our police to indulge in these mathematical gymnastics and just get on with the job of chasing criminals."

Mr Johnston meanwhile said there is no need to apologise and the review was about transparency.

The force's new chief constable Jeff Farrar said his officers had used common sense "and did what they thought was right."

He told MPs on Wednesday there was a risk performance targets were "driving" police in England and Wales to manipulate the figures.

Mr Farrar, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on crime statistics - and ordered the internal review - said targets were "subtly translated" in different ways and could "drive bad behaviour" by officers.

In response to the review, Gwent Police said measures had been introduced including "regular and clear messages" from the chief constable, and training for all relevant staff.

It also said steps were being taken "to improve the ease by which officers can gain access to the guidance they need", and "a tight focus on standards through an internal audit and scrutiny board" would be maintained.

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