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

6  Police and Crime Commissioners

118. Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are elected, and have assumed responsibility for setting policing priorities and the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable. They are accountable to the local electorate for the performance of the local police force in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.There is therefore a danger that central Government's efforts to remove targets will be undermined by locally-set targets and electoral pressures.

119. A number of PCCs have refused to set numerical targets, mindful of their distorting effects. For example, Nick Alston, PCC in Essex, told us:

    reducing numerical targets seemed to be absolutely key, so I took away the numerical targets from Essex policing. [...] I am very aware of the susceptibility of crime statistics to be worked in all sorts of different ways.[110]

120. During the course of this inquiry, we wrote, on 6 December 2013, to all 43 Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales to ask them:

·  What, if any, targets they set for their police force and what impact they think this has on police recording crime practices.

·  How they assure themselves that the recorded crime figures for their area are correct and to what extent can they trust the crime statistics for their area.

121. The replies are published on our website as evidence to this inquiry, along with evidence submitted by some PCCs to our original call for evidence. Three PCCs gave oral evidence to PASC on 19 November 2013, the Deputy Mayor of London, who acts as PCC for London gave oral evidence on 8 January 2014,and three different PCCs gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 26 November 2013.[111](Some of those PCCs who gave oral evidence also submitted written evidence.)

122. Out of the 42pieces of written and oral evidence from PCCs, 16PCCs told us they have set specific numerical targets in their local Police and Crime Plans, such as "to achieve a 12% reduction in overall crime" (Hampshire) or "to reduce burglary by 2%" (Thames Valley). A notable example of this is the Metropolitan Police: the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) has set a range of targets under the heading 'MOPAC 20/20/20'-including a target to reduce the 'MOPAC 7' group of offences by 20%. The Deputy Mayor of London for Policing told the Committee that the target was designed to mitigate risks (sexual offences are excluded from the target, while acquisitive crimes cannot easily be reclassified/downgraded out of the scope of MOPAC 7 as the relevant categories are included).[112]

123. The definition of 'target' is a grey area however. The Wiltshire PCC has "thresholds" which are numerical and indicate the upper and lower boundaries between which he would expect his own force's performance to sit. Most of the other PCCs have some kind of "performance measures" or "ambitions", which, whilst not being numerical, are in place in order for the PCC to indicate expected performance from the local force. For example, the Avon and Somerset PCC has set the ambition for the burglary crime rate to be in the "top 10" performing forces.

124. A number of PCCs, such as the PCC for Essex, stated they were concerned about the perverse incentives targets can introduce, leading tomisrecording of crime. Several stated that, on becoming the PCC, they had explicitly done away with targets.However, others stated that it was important to have at least some performance measures as part of their role in holding the local police force to account, setting expectations and meeting the wishes of the public. Most stated that performance measures were only part of the way in which they monitored the performance of the police and that they had measures in place to mitigate the risks that targets might introduce.

125. Several PCCs mentioned that in some areas they would welcome an increase in the recorded incidence of some types of crime, if this was because more victims were coming forward, for example, in reporting rapes.

126. The Police and Crime Commissioner(PCC) role, and the political and electoral pressures that PCCs are subject to, has the potential to foster target cultures within forces, with consequent perverse incentives and detrimental impact on data quality.There is considerable variance across the country in the use of targets by PCCs.

127. Some PCCs consider the perverse incentives created by targets to be so serious that they have dropped all targets. Others believe the risk is manageable. As part of its annual audit programme, HMIC should examine the effect of PCC target-setting on crime recording practices and culture, and should in due course look back at the first PCC period in office to assess the impact on data integrity of locally-set targets.

128. The Home Office, which claims credit for abolishing national numerical targets, should make clear in its guidance to PCCs that they should not setperformance targets based on Police Recorded Crime data as this tends to distort recording practices and to create perverse incentives to misrecord crime. The evidence for this is incontrovertible. In the meantime, we deprecate such target setting in the strongest possible terms. Police Recorded Crimedata should not be used as the basis for personal performance appraisal or for making decisions about remuneration or promotion. We regard such practice as a flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.

110   Q92 Back

111   Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee, 26 November 2013, HC (2013-14) 757-i Back

112   Q367 [Stephen Greenhalgh] Back

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Prepared 9 April 2014