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

Conclusions and recommendations

Police Recorded Crime (PRC)

1.  Our inquiry covered crime statistics in England and Wales. However, it would be surprising if similar issues to do with the quality of the statistics did not exist in Northern Ireland and Scotland. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary for Scotland's recent review into compliance of police recording with the expected standards gives cause for concern-the recording of some crime types falls well below the expected standard. (Paragraph 7)

2.  We recommend that UKSA urgently investigate the quality of crime statistics in Scotland and Northern Ireland and their compliance with the Code of Practice, in the light of the findings of this inquiry, and UKSA's decision to remove the 'National Statistics' kitemark from crime statistics in England and Wales. (Paragraph 8)

3.  Accurate Police Recorded Crime data is essential if Police and Crime Commissioners and Chief Constables are to know what crimes are being committed in their area and therefore how to respond. (Paragraph 13)

4.  It is not credible to suggest that sensible resolution of the tensions between a rigid compliance with the recording rules and a common-sense approach can explain the exaggerated decline of Police Recorded Crime. Our witnesses provided a wealth of insight into the various ways in which crime data accuracy and integrity can be and have been compromised. However, the lack of regular and rigorous audit of crime recording practices in recent years makes it impossible to assess the extent of any compromise and the relative importance of these factors. The re-establishment of regular annual external audit of forces from this year onwards, which we discuss later in this Report, provides a vital opportunity to fill this gap in the understanding of the problem and to contribute towards a durable solution. (Paragraph 29)

5.  It is vital that the Government ensures the accuracy and reliability of Police Recorded Crime. Police Recorded Crime provides a crucial intelligence resource for the police and informs the operational deployment of police resources. Lax supervision of recorded crime data risks reducing the police's effectiveness in their core role of protecting the public and preventing crime because they cannot deploy resource effectively if they are not aware of the true level and nature of crime. (Paragraph 30)

6.  Under-recording or miscategorising crime erodes public trust in the police and undermines the trust and confidence of frontline police officers in police leadership: it creates doubt that the public will be taken seriously when they report a crime. (Paragraph 31)

7.  Any instance of deliberate misrecording of sexual offences is deplorable, but especially so if this has been brought about by means of improperly persuading or pressurising victims into withdrawing or downgrading their report. (Paragraph 39)

8.  The disparities between different police forces in the 'no-crime rates' for rapes and sexual offences are sufficient in our view to raise serious concerns about the varying approaches taken by police forces to recording and investigating these horrendous crimes. We look forward to the outcome of the research commissioned by the Metropolitan Police examining the force's 'no crime' decisions in respect of sexual offences. (Paragraph 40)

9.  The fact that this research is necessary, following the 2008 Independent Police Complaints Commission report into the Sapphire Unit is a damning indictment of police complacency, inertia and lack of leadership. However, the data indicates that the Metropolitan Police Service is unlikely to be the only force of concern. (Paragraph 41)

10.  The Home Office must undertake a comprehensive analysis in order to explain the extraordinary disparities in no-crime rates for sexual offences across all police forces. We expect this to be completed within two months and included with the response to this Report. We also recommend that the devolved administrations undertake analogous work. This should lead to work to improve the accuracy transparency and reliability of police recorded sexual offences so that a table of no crime rates does not suggest systemic inconsistency in recording practices. (Paragraph 42)

11.  We note the reduction in the sample size of the Crime Survey for England and Wales. Police Recorded Crime is the only detailed indicator of crime trends at local level, enabling police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners, local authorities, the public and the Home Office to keep track of crime in different force area. The Crime Survey for England and Wales is no substitute for Police Recorded Crime in respect of monitoring crime trends in local areas. (Paragraph 45)

12.  We recommend that the ONS review and then publish, alongside the Crime Survey for England and Wales, information about the nature of the sample, including the impact of the reduction in sample size on the reliability of the statistics, its cost over time, and an explanation of what statistics might be published at a sub-national level, for example for the larger police forces. (Paragraph 46)

Removal of National Statistics status

13.  We commend UKSA for acting in response to the evidence exposed by PASC's inquiry, to strip Police Recorded Crime statistics of the quality designation 'National Statistics'. However, the fact that it took our inquiry, and a whistleblower from the Metropolitan Police Service, to expose sufficient evidence suggests serious shortcomings in UKSA's ability and capacity in their assessment function. We acknowledge their recent decision to remove the designation 'National Statistics', but this cannot mitigate what amounts to a long-standing failure of a number of bodies to address the thoroughness of the assessment of Police Recorded Crime, despite a series of previous reviews which identified shortcomings. (Paragraph 54)

14.  This raises serious concerns around the decision to designate Police Recorded Crime as National Statistics in 2011. It has been quoted by ministers that the ONS described the system for recording crime in England and Wales as "one of the best in the world" in 2012. This was after the cessation of regular external audit of force crime recording in 2007. All can see now that this reflected a lamentable complacency. The then National Statistician took no action at that time. This was wrong-the then National Statistician, or UKSA, once established, should have pressed for other process to be put in place to ensure the integrity of crime data. (Paragraph 55)

15.  The reviews of crime statistics by UKSA and the ONS in 2011 failed to expose the unreliability of recording practices within police forces themselves. An opportunity was therefore missed to gather evidence and identify issues which could have called into question the designation of Police Recorded Crime as 'National Statistics' at a much earlier stage. (Paragraph 56)

16.  It is deplorable that ONS can have overseen the production of crime statistics, which were a set of National Statistics, with what appears to have been very limited knowledge of the 'quality assurance' steps that the data went through before being sent to the ONS. The ONS has been too reliant on too little information about the audits performed within police forces or by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. Overall, the ONS has been too passive in carrying out their duties in relation to crime statistics. This cannot continue. (Paragraph 57)

17.  The fragmentation of responsibility between individual forces, Home Office and the ONS was not satisfactory and contributed to the failure of the Police Recorded Crime series to meet the standards of the Code of Practice with which official statistics must comply. No single organisation has taken overall responsibility or accountability for ensuring an acceptable quality of crime statistics, which has led to their inadequate quality. (Paragraph 58)

18.  We endorse UKSA's recommendation that the ONS should publish a clear statement of the respective roles and responsibilities of the Home Office and the ONS in the production of Police Recorded Crime statistics. (Paragraph 59)

19.  We recommend UKSA works closely with the Home Office in its role as the first recipient of raw data from forces, and ensures the Home Office takes active primary operational responsibility and accepts accountability for ensuring the integrity of the data which it collates, validates and submits to the ONS for publication. UKSA should hold the Home Office directly accountable for its role in the recorded crime statistics process, including its validation and quality assurance processes as well as its policy guidance to forces and Police and Crime Commissioners, and should in future examine the Home Office's processes and procedures directly rather than at one remove. (Paragraph 60)

20.  The Crime Statistics Advisory Committee (CSAC), which contains representation of all of the main stakeholders in the crime statistics production process as well as the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has failed. It has not demonstrated sufficient independence and objectivity in carrying out its role to ensure recorded crime statistics are "accurate, clearly presented, comprehensive, transparent and trustworthy" as set out in its terms of reference. CSAC has a vital role in leading the efforts to provide that the system guarantees the reliability and integrity of all crime statistics emerge strengthened from this episode. (Paragraph 61)

21.  We recommend that UKSA should review the role and composition of CSAC and the structures supporting the production of crime statistics, just as it has recently with a similar committee advising on inflation figures, to ensure that CSAC is independent and rigorous and that these statistics best meet user needs in future. (Paragraph 62)

22.  We welcome UKSA's comments that it intends to prioritise in its workplan the reassessment of National Statistics based on administrative datasets, taking on board the lessons learned from the declassification of Police Recorded Crime.
(Paragraph 64)

23.  UKSA must not in future grant to, or maintain, the kitemark of 'National Statistics' on any set of statistics where it has failed to verify whether the underlying data meets the standard required. They should, as a matter of urgency, review all other similar statistics where collection processes are beyond the control of the ONS. UKSA should review the Code of Practice for Official Statistics to determine whether it needs to be revised to allow for the new emphasis on administrative data. (Paragraph 65)

Police leadership, values and culture

24.  We welcome the adoption of the new statutory Code of Ethics setting out the principles and standards of professional behaviour expected of the police in England and Wales. This is most important in respect of the training of police leadership.(Paragraph 70)

25.  We recommend that the Home Office and College of Policing make a more explicit statement of how the Code of Ethics' enforcement framework will impose a duty of data integrity on police officers in respect of crime recording practices, and that penalties will apply in the event of deliberate non-compliance. They must also ensure that officers are familiar with the victim-focussed principles of the National Crime Recording Standard and the distinction between recording standards and charging standards. (Paragraph 71)

26.  The vast majority of police officers joined the police in order to serve as dedicated and courageous professionals, motivated by their vocation to protect the public. However, targets, based either on Police Recorded Crime data or on other internally-generated administrative data, set by senior police officers or Police and Crime Commissioners, tend to affect attitudes, erode data quality and to distort individual and institutional behaviour and priorities.(Paragraph 86)

27.  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. We are pleased to note that when they returned to Kent in January 2014, they found that good progress had been made in tackling this issue. HMIC's findings in Kent are a promising indication of how a rigorous and sustained audit regime, combined with a clear prioritisation of data integrity by senior leadership, can contribute to bringing about positive change.(Paragraph 87)

28.  The attitudes and behaviours which lead to the misrecording of crime have become ingrained, including within senior leadership, leading to the subordination of data integrity to target-chasing. This can present officers with a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values. HMIC recognises this in their first Annual Assessment of the state of policing, but we are disappointed that this vital issue received only cursory attention in over 200 pages.(Paragraph 88)

29.  Senior police leaders and HMIC must ensure that emphasis is placed on data integrity and accuracy, not on the direction of recorded crime trends. Formal performance appraisal should be based upon these core policing values and not based on targets derived from Police Recorded Crime data or other administrative data on their own. 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 expect HMIC to lay much stronger emphasis on this aspect of police behaviour in future Annual Assessments. (Paragraph 89)

30.  The issues raised in this Report concerning the integrity of Police Recorded Crime statistics demonstrate the subordination of core policing values to the 'target culture'. This reflects broader concerns about policing values. We recommend that the Committee of 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. (Paragraph 91)

31.  We recommend that the Home Office clarify the current position about the external bodies a police officer may approach once internal procedures have been exhausted. We deplore the failure of the Home Office to send us a reply in time for this Report. As soon as we receive a reply, we will publish it on our website. (Paragraph 97)

32.  We recommend that the Home Office clarifies the route open to police whistleblowers who have exhausted internal channels within their police forces. Police whistleblowers should be free to refer their allegations to the IPCC, and should, while those concerns are pending formal investigation, enjoy immunity from disciplinary proceedings in relation to actions taken in order to raise those concerns. (Paragraph 98)

33.  We recommend that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary should investigate the Metropolitan Police Service in respect of the treatment of PC Patrick and review the internal processes and procedures of the police for dealing with whistleblowers, in order to ensure that they are treated fairly and compassionately. We further recommend that the Home Affairs Committee should inquire into these matters to ensure that whistleblowers in any police force are treated fairly and with respect and care. We have grave doubts that the Metropolitan Police Service has treated PC Patrick fairly or with respect and care. (Paragraph 99)

Monitoring and audit

34.  We welcome HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's decision to undertake a data integrity inspection in 2014, and its commitment to reinstituting an annual external audit programme. We welcome the extra funding provided by the Home Office for regular annual audit of all forces.(Paragraph 114)

35.  We recommend that HMIC confirm that a rigorous audit of crime recording integrity will form a permanent part of these audits. Audits should ensure that the senior leadership within each force articulates the importance of data integrity to its officers. It is therefore essential that the Force Crime Registrar has not only had the requisite training but the necessary authority within the force to do their job. HMIC should identify a minimum suitable rank for FCRs, such as Deputy Chief Constable or equivalent, and FCRs should report directly to the force Commander. (Paragraph 115)

36.  We recommend that the current audit should examine the reasons for misrecording, such as the effect of performance culture (identifying instances where targets drive perverse incentives), poor understanding of counting rules, inadequate training and deliberate malpractice. (Paragraph 116)

37.  The Chief Inspector of Constabulary assured us that HMIC is "completely independent" in its judgements and has "no allegiance, other than to the public interest and to the law." This is not self-evident, given the numerous instances of HMIC inspectors moving from and into senior positions within police forces. It is therefore vital to the credibility of HMIC's annual audit of crime recording that this independence of judgement be maintained and be seen to be maintained.
(Paragraph 117)

Police and Crime Commissioners

38.  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.(Paragraph 126)

39.  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.
(Paragraph 127)

40.  The Home Office, which claims credit for abolishing national numerical targets, should make clear in its guidance to PCCs that they should not set performance 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 Crime data 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.(Paragraph 128))

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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 9 April 2014