Once a fortnight I take part in a performance meeting where I am held to account for crime figures for South Holland.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to a performance culture and I do care about local crime trends. Operation Bonus is an example of me putting in place plans to tackle a rise in burglaries in an area of Spalding. I think the only people that care about the recorded crime figures are politicians and journalists.
In every public meeting or community policing panel I go to, no member of the public has ever expressed concern about our recorded crime levels.
I have always found that members of the public might have an awareness of national crime trends, but are more concerned about what they see when they open their front door. And what they see when they open their front door are street drinkers (not a recorded crime), cyclists on the pavements or without lights (not recorded crimes) and litter (not a recorded crime). So you see, the things that matter to our community, don’t register on the crime figures that I am held to account for.
But when I say I don’t care about crime figures, I do care very deeply about crime and in particular, victims of crime.
“The police should immediately institutionalise the presumption that the victim is to be believed.” These were the words of Tom Winsor last week after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published a report stating there is an “inexcusably poor” level of police recording of crime – with nationally more than one in five crimes going unrecorded each year.
I’m proud of the fact that Lincolnshire Police were second out of 43 forces in terms of the accuracy and integrity of our crime records. HMIC agreed with 98 per cent of our crime-recording decisions. They did recommend that more guidance should be given to officers over incidents recorded as crimes but later found not to be so: so called ‘No Crimes’. I’ll explain a little bit more about ‘No Crimes’ in a moment.
First, I want to remind you that my cops have that thankless job of encountering victims when they are at their most vulnerable. They do their best to comfort victims of crime and their families; while at the same time trying to secure the best evidence to track down and lock up criminals.
That is what they do, every day, every hour.
But let me be frank. Not everyone we meet is honest. My officers are lied to on a daily basis by a large number of the people they encounter. Usually those people are the offenders, but sometimes, just occasionally, they are lied to by people claiming to be victims. A lot of the time, policing comes down to a judgement call about who is telling the truth.
So when is a crime not a crime? Firstly, the Government decided what is and isn’t a recorded crime. We then apply those rules when incidents are reported to us. Let me use some scenarios to explain:
Scenario One: An officer on foot patrol on a Saturday night comes across a drunken man who has a bloodied nose. The man says he has been assaulted earlier in the evening and wants to make a complaint. The officer will record the man’s details but, unless the offender is nearby, will not begin an investigation. The man will be told to come to the police station in the morning, when he is sober. If the man fails to turn up, no crime is recorded. This isn’t laziness: I’ve taken details of a drunken man with a broken nose insisting he had been assaulted, yet when I reviewed CCTV evidence it showed he had tripped over his own discarded kebab paper.
Scenario Two: Officers are called to a domestic incident. There is evidence that a fight has taken place and the victim has bruising on their face. The victim does not want to make a complaint. In these circumstances, there is evidence of a crime, so a crime is recorded and the offender is arrested. If the victim still insists that they don’t want to make a complaint, the crime remains recorded as a crime even though it is undetected. (Actually, it is officially recorded in Home-Office-Speak as ‘Resolved: Named suspect identified – evidential difficulties prevent further action, victim does not support police action’ but in plain talk, it’s undetected).
Scenario Three: A man reports that his car has been stolen. A crime report is completed, however enquiries show that the vehicle was involved in an incident the previous night where it failed to stop for police and was later found abandoned in a field. CCTV evidence shows that the person reporting the theft was actually the driver at the time and has reported the theft to avoid prosecution for driving offences. Under these circumstances the theft would be amended to record ‘No Crime’ and a new crime for perverting the course of justice would be created.
Victims should have confidence to report crimes to us. My officers are human, and sometimes they make mistakes, but they are highly scrutinised by me and are held to account for their decisions. They are never ever pressured to manipulate the crime figures. While national headlines shout that the police fail to record crime, I want you to be reassured: in our little corner of the county we record crime ethically and accurately and yet recorded crime is still consistently down. There are 1,300 less victims of crime in South Holland compared to two years ago.
Actually, that kind of crime reduction is a crime figure that I do care about.