Caught red-handed: Why we can't count on Police Recorded Crime statistics - Public Administration Committee Contents


Crime statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are central to our understanding of the nature and prevalence of crime in England and Wales. They providecrucial information for the police which helps them to decide how to deploy their manpower resources. Lax supervision of recorded crime data risks reducing the police's effectiveness in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime.

Measurement of crime is based on two main statistical sources: (i) the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW, formerly the British Crime Survey) and (ii) Police Recorded Crime (PRC). The CSEW and PRC provide strong evidence that the overall volume of crime has been falling. However, there is an accumulation of substantial and credible evidence indicating that the PRC data do not represent a full and accurate account of crime in England and Wales. Of most importance, we have strong evidence that PRC under-records crime, and therefore the rate of decrease in crime may be exaggerated, and this is due to lax police compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.

As a result of PASC's inquiry and the evidence we have exposed, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) decided in January 2014 to strip PRC data of its designation as National Statistics. We conclude that the Home Office, ONS and UKSA have been far too passive in the face of concerns raised about PRC; they have repeatedly missed opportunities to ensure the integrity and quality of PRC data.

The cessation of regular external audit of police force crime recording in 2007 was a mistake. We recommend the re-instatement of annual audits of crime recording practices.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's inspection in 2013 into the Kent Police found clear evidence that targets are detrimental to the integrity of crime data. Numerical targets for individual police officers and police forces as a whole, based on PRC data, and set by senior police officers or Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), drive perverse incentives to misrecord crime, tend to affect attitudes and erode data quality. Some PCCs consider the perverse incentives created by targets to be so serious that they have dropped all targets. We applaud them. The attitudes and behaviour which lead to the misrecording of crime have become ingrained, including within senior leadership. This leads to the subordination of data integrity to target-chasing. This can present officers with a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.

We deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms. The Home Office, which claims credit for abolishing national numerical targets, should also be discouraging the use of such targets. The Home Office must also take responsibility and accept accountability for the quality of PRC statistics. Senior police leaders must ensure that emphasis is placed on data integrity and accuracy, not on the achievement of targets. We regard such practice as a flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics. The quality of leadership within the police, and its compliance with the core values of policing, including accountability, honesty and integrity, will determine whether the proper quality of PRC data can be restored. We are convinced that this requires leadership in many police forces to place new emphasis on values and ethics,especially in the Metropolitan Police Service. We recommend that the Committee on Standards in Public Life conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the police's compliance with the new Code of Ethics; in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining these values in the face of all the other pressures on the force.

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Prepared 9 April 2014