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  1. Politics
22 January 2015

To hide behind falling crime rates is to fail victims of crime

New forms of crime are on the up.

By Jack Dromey

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.

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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

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