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We welcome blogs from anyone with an opinion of issues in or affecting the police service, providing they are not party political, defamatory or containing inappropriate language.

Today’s blog comes from Deputy Chief Constable Francis Habgood from Thames Valley Police, who is a national police lead for inspection regimes.

The findings of the committee and their report’s interpretation in the media leave many questions unanswered. I have tried to answer some of them below.

Why is there under-recording and why does it matter?

Accurate crime figures are essential to allow police resources to be directed effectively and inform the public of crime trends in their area. Chief constables need and want accurate crime data.

It is also vital that the public trust that if they are victim of crime it will be recorded accurately, investigated fully and that police will take appropriate action. Our policing model relies on that confidence and people coming forward to ask for help and report crime.

Both the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) - which is recorded completely independently of the police - and recorded crime, which is the police’s own statistics, show that crime has been going down. Over the last 10 years the level of reduction across both these measures is the same: 38 per cent. There has to be a margin for error in all statistics but there is no reason to think that the rate of error has changed dramatically over recent years. While crimes can sometimes be mis-recorded or placed in the wrong categories, mistakes such as this could not account for a significant impact on this overall trend.

That said, recorded crime does not capture all aspects of criminal activity; serious and organised criminality often does not fit neatly into one of the recorded crime categories. More emphasis has been placed on preventative police activity in recent years, such as protecting against dangerous people. Police resources in this area are allocated based on an assessment of threat, risk and harm. But it is more difficult to measure the success of this type of policing activity.

We know that there is a level of under-reporting of crime and that this level varies according to the offence type. We work hard to increase reporting: particularly in areas where we know underreporting is a particular problem such as domestic abuse and rape. In these categories a rise in the recorded figures is positive in the sense that it is uncovering crime we know is already there and may reflect confidence in the police’s ability to tackle it.

There can be many reasons for under-recording:

• lack of awareness and knowledge about the rules and standards, which are quite technical
• pressure of work – short-cuts being taken by staff or possible neglect of duty
• system errors where IT systems are not integrated
• use of professional discretion in the public interest; for example, a parent reporting a theft by their child and wanting police advice but never expecting a crime to be recorded
• pressure to achieve local performance targets which results in perverse activity
• more sinister manipulation of figures; although there is limited evidence of this and any cases are dealt with robustly.

Is ‘lax compliance’ by the police to blame?

We have to be honest and say that the service has not always met the standards of data quality that the public expects.

We should remember that the vast percentage of crimes are recorded accurately but there is certainly scope to improve that percentage.

People do not join the police service intent on failing to record and investigate crimes properly. There are clear standards in place for ethical and professional recording of crime but there is some inconsistency in how the existing rules are interpreted and applied by individual forces.

The focus has to be on the service that we provide to victims. Steps are being taken to introduce a more consistent approach across the country.

How can chiefs tackle this?

Chief constables have a responsibility for ensuring that crimes are recorded accurately and are appropriately investigated. Working with PCCs, chief constables have an important role to play in building a culture of ethical crime reporting that complements the service’s wider values, laid out in the draft Code of Ethics developed by the College of Policing.

Regular messages should reinforce the commitment to ethical crime recording, and the launch of the Code of Ethics later this year will represent another opportunity to emphasise this. It is important that staff have the appropriate level of knowledge to be able to undertake their role in the crime recording process; and chiefs will work with the college to achieve this.

Chiefs also need to ensure that their processes support good crime recording and investigation and that, where necessary and possible, ICT systems are integrated. Force Crime Registrars should be trained and accredited through the College and have appropriate access to a chief officer.

A better way of measuring performance?

In previous years, the use of targets in policing took on a life of their own. This has, on occasion, led to perverse activity, particularly in relation to crime detections. Numerical league tables and unsophisticated performance management that focuses exclusively on numbers without attempting to understand what lies behind them can provide a disincentive for accurate recording of crime. This is a pitfall of performance regimes in all walks of life, and especially across public services.

Measuring what is happening in our communities and the effectiveness of police activity is an important part of improving policing. It needs to be applied intelligently.

Across policing the approach to performance management is now more mature. There are no national targets, less locally-set numerical targets and the way that they are used is generally more appropriate. It is a responsibility of leaders to ensure that culture and behaviour that is encouraged by any targets or measures is not leading to perverse activity.

Concentrating solely on police-recorded crime as a means of measuring police effectiveness misses the many other aspects of police activity, such as managing risk.

Others play an important role in ensuring ethical recording; PCCs holding forces to account, the Home Office ensuring that data collected from forces is accurate and HMIC carrying out proportionate audits of forces. There is a responsibility on us all to ensure that crime is as accurate as possible.