Yesterday I covered how the reported cuts in police officers on Lancashire's streets had been exaggerated as part of a suggestion that they were fuelling rises in crime. Today, let's look at those “rises in crime” they are allegedly fuelling.
The first thing to note is that the suggestion that crime was going up failed a FactCheck by Channel 4 News, who suggested that a comparison of 12 months generally falling crime figures with one month where there were rises meant that the officer in question should go back to his casenotes. This was however a little harsh on him as, at the meeting where the controversial comments were made, he had been careful to give figures for the full 12 months as well as for the single month. It's not his fault how they were reported.
The second thing is to track how crime performs against the reduction in police establishment. (For anoraks – this includes all officers, not just the frontline, and is establishment, not actual levels -compared against the total of 'all crime' for the previous 12 months- this is what Lancashire Police Authority were willing to provide).
1st April 09 – 3659 officers – 117,544 offences
1st April 10 – 3611 officers – Reduction of 8.7% in offences
1st April 11 – 3445 officers – Reduction of 4.5% in offences
1st April 12 – 3156 officers – Reduction of 3.1% in offences
Yes, you read that right. As police numbers came down, total crime came down, and kept coming down. This wasn't just a case of waiting for the effect to hit, because it happened consistently over 3 years. So the data since April 2009 actually supports the reverse of what was alleged. Far from police reductions pushing crime up, crime has been coming down.
Now let's be clear, crime figures are like share prices and interest rates. They can go up as well as down, and no doubt at some point they will. I don't think that losing police officers pushed crime down! However, the police do much more than deal with crime, and crime is impacted by much more than policing, so I suspect the relationship is not very strong, and these figures are in line with that. However, at some point crime in Lancashire may go up, and someone, whether in a uniform or wearing a red rosette, is going to start jumping up and down and saying “See, I told you the Coalition cuts would put crime up”. That person will be deliberately ignoring the last 3 years of data which points in exactly the opposite direction.
If someone wishes to make such a biased and partisan point in the future they should also consider that they would need to have increases in 'All Crime' by nearly 20% for it to be at the level before the reductions.
Finally if, like me and the FactCheck team, you treat the single month of data as wanting, then the only increase of note is the increase in recorded offences of Violence with Injury between April 2011 and March 2012, which was 5.8%. Violent crime generally fell, so it is the rise in this particular category that is of interest – an increase of 605 offences across Lancashire.
Those who work in this field will be aware that not all crime is equal. There are certain crimes, which in the Police Authority meeting the Acting Chief called 'iceberg crimes', where it is generally recognised that the reported level of crime is only a small proportion of the real level, and the goal of most agencies is to increase the reporting of these offences, so that they can be dealt with. Sadly an increase could be better reporting or more crime, or both – it's hard to tell – but trying to push down the number of reports is exactly the wrong thing to do. This applies to domestic violence, racial harassment, child sexual exploitation and a range of other offences. It is already a point slightly lost on Clive Grunshaw, the Labour Candidate for Lancashire PCC, who has said the increase in reported domestic violence is “not acceptable, and will be tackled“. His 'number one priority' is fatally flawed.
I asked the Constabulary how much of the increase in Violence with Injury was made up of just one of these 'iceberg crimes', domestic violence. Again, I had to go back and forth with the Police Authority a few times before I got the answer, which was that domestic violence offences of this type had gone up by 431. This revelation was accompanied by a note that “It's not necessarily as straight forward as suggesting that it was the increase in the domestic violence offences that accounted for 71% of the increase.” Oh really? Why not? The maths looked exactly that straightforward, which I pointed out, a couple of times, and as the explanation I received as to why merely repeated the figures, it looks safe to conclude that over two thirds of the increase in the one significant category of crime to rise last year was actually down to an increase in reported domestic violence.
I haven't asked about the other iceberg crimes. I don't think we can wait that long, and the point is already made. The bulk of the very limited rise in crime was for the sort of offences that we want people to report more often. Not only is the reduction in police numbers on the streets exaggerated, but the 'rise in crime' is not what it first appears.
The facts in this case do not support the notion that spending reductions are putting crime up. In fact, it might be difficult to think of a set of facts less able to support that conclusion.