Why we can’t rely on police recorded crime statistics

09 April 2014

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee says: “Poor data integrity reflects the poor quality of leadership within the police.  Their compliance with the core values of policing, including accountability, honesty and integrity, will determine whether the proper quality of Police Recorded Crime data can be restored.”

The PASC report, Caught Redhanded: Why we can’t rely on Police Recorded Crime, published today, Wednesday 9 April 2014, says:

  • There is strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas.
  • This is due to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.”
  • As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped Police Recorded Crime data of the quality kite mark, “National Statistics”.
  • The Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”.
  • Numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime.
  • Associated “attitudes and behaviour... have become ingrained, including within senior police leadership” raising “broader concerns about policing values”.
  • This presents officers with “a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.”
  • PASC “deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms” and accuses the police of adopting a “flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.”

The PASC report recommends:

  • The Home Office should do more to discourage use of targets.
  • The Home Office must take responsibility and accept accountability for the quality of Police Recorded Crime Statistics.
  • Senior police leaders must emphasise data integrity and accuracy, not targets.
  • They should place new emphasis on values and ethics, especially in the Metropolitan Police.
  • The Home Office should “clarify the route open to police whistleblowers” and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) should investigate the treatment of key PASC witness police whistleblower PC James Patrick.
  • PASC recommends 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".

Measurement of crime is based on two main statistical sources: the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and Police Recorded Crime (PRC) data. 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. The evidence that the police under records crime may exaggerate the rate of decrease in crime in some areas and category of crime. 

Following the investigation into the Metropolitan Police Sapphire Unit, PASC says that the need for more research into variations in the recording of rape across different police forces is a “damning indictment of police complacency , inertia and lack of leadership.”

The Committee says that the Home Office, ONS and UK Statistic Authority have repeatedly missed opportunities to ensure the integrity and quality of PRC data. It also calls for an investigation into the treatment of the whistle-blower who sparked the inquiry. Some Police and Crime Commissioners consider the perverse incentives created by targets to be so serious that they have dropped all targets and the Committee says this should be extended to all forces.

Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The most depressing part of this inquiry is the way that the Metropolitan Police appear to have treated my constituent, PC James Patrick. He says he has been forced to resign from the Metropolitan.  Acting as a whistleblower, he tried to highlight serious concerns about the validity of crime statistics, and the target culture.  Most police forces are still in denial about the damage targets cause, both to data integrity and to standards of behaviour. 

"We are indebted to PC Patrick for his courage in speaking out, in fulfilment of his duty to the highest standards of public service, despite intense pressures to the contrary. The new police code of ethics places a duty on officers to report misconduct among their peers:  the systems enabling police officers to do this must be made much clearer and more accessible, and the Home Office must clarify the route open to police whistleblowers who have exhausted internal channels within their police forces.

“We asked the Home Office for this clarification before we finalised our report, but they replied too late.  We have published their response on our website now. We are calling for HMIC to investigate the Metropolitan Police Service in respect of the treatment of PC Patrick. We have grave doubts that the Metropolitan Police Service has treated PC Patrick fairly or with respect and care.

“Crime statistics are central to our understanding of the nature and prevalence of crime in England and Wales. They provide crucial 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.”

Further information

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