Some crimes are falling but crime is changing. Photo: Getty
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To hide behind falling crime rates is to fail victims of crime

New forms of crime are on the up.

The assertion from government that “crime is down”, which means, it says, that its reforms are working, offers a misleading view of crime in England and Wales today. Crime fell by 43 per cent under Labour. That was because we built neighbourhood policing, putting 17,000 extra police officers and 16,000 PCSOs on the beat. Additionally, trends worldwide have shown decreasing levels of some crimes due to reasons which include changing demography and volume crime decreasing as cars were made more difficult to steal and houses to burgle.

Yet the government is using this to support its claims that its reforms to policing are working when the opposite is the case.

It is essential that crime statistics are accurate so the public is aware of the true picture and Chief Constables can plan their resources to meet the challenges of crime.  Additionally, statistics give us insight into crime trends so we can see patterns, gauge performance and, crucially, hold police forces to account.

However, valid statistical evidence in policing has been somewhat difficult to come by in recent years. An inquiry launched by the House of Commons Public Administration Committee found that there was under-recording of crime and the official statistics could not be trusted. Indeed the UK Statistics Authority stripped Police Recorded Crime (PRC) data of the “National Statistics” gold standard when evidence came to light that suggested the data did not represent a full and accurate picture of crime in England and Wales.

As a result, what we are now seeing is a mixed picture between PRC and the Office of National Statistics’ Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), a survey of 50,000 households. PRC is showing an increase in crime in many police forces, including sexual offences up by 22 per cent, violent crime up by 16 per cent and public order offences up by 10 per cent. While on the other hand, the CSEW is showing a steady decline in crime. Yet the CSEW has been criticised for not recording some offences, such as shoplifting, and does not question some of the most vulnerable people who may be repeatedly victimised, such as those who are homeless. To say that the Home Office is basing its claim that crime is falling on rocky ground would be an understatement.

In addition, while it is true that those traditional forms of crime like vandalism, vehicle-related theft and burglary have been seeing a steady decline since their peak just under 20 years ago, crime is changing.

There may be fewer bank robbers and car thieves but there is a new wave of criminality sweeping forward from those who hide behind desktops carrying out sophisticated forms of cyber crime and online fraud.

As internet access in the UK increases, and its use becomes ever easier, so too do criminal activities online. In fact, the National Crime Agency last year stated, "If there is a single cross-cutting issue that has changed the landscape for serious and organised crime and our response against it, it is the growth in scale and speed of internet communication technologies." Furthermore, research conducted by a US-based company, FireEye, noted that cyber attacks against Britain in the first half of last year were far more numerous than any other state in Europe or the Middle East.

According to an ONS survey released in July 2014, the number of fraud offences could total between 3.6m and 3.8m incidents of crime per year. It is estimated that if bank and credit card fraud were included in the CSEW, the total number of criminal offences would jump by a quarter.

Apart from the world of online and cyber criminality, other forms of criminality are imposing ever greater demands on the police service, from the tackling of the obscenity of child sexual exploitation and abuse to the threat of terrorism. The exploitation and abuse of children is, as we now know, on a massively greater scale than was reflected in crime recording.

In summary, some crimes are falling but crime is changing and new forms of criminality are soaring just when the police officer numbers have suffered the biggest cuts in Europe. The time has come for a mature conversation about the changing nature of crime and how we may tackle it. To hide behind crime rates that are based on dodgy statistics, claiming that you can cut tens of thousands of police officers and cut crime, is to fail victims of crime.

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister and MP for Birmingham, Erdington

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.