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Recording crime correctly matters

It is crucial that crime is recorded correctly and ethically by our police forces.  This is a matter of police integrity, of treating victims with respect and of ensuring that officers have the most accurate possible information as they work both to prevent crime and bring criminals to justice.

I attended the Public Administration Select Committee on Tuesday November 19, and we heard compelling evidence from a range of witnesses about the perverse effects that a performance target culture can have on police decision-making.

This may sound a fairly obscure issue, but a simple example should help illuminate the problem.  If a police force is set a target of reducing house burglary by 20 per cent, then the evidence presented to the parliamentary Select Committee and information I have learned from conversations with many officers across the country suggests that this may lead to some of the following consequences.

Firstly, significant police resources may be taken from other policing activities and dedicated to tackling burglary.  If there is a significant burglary problem in a county, then this may be the correct operational response, but in moving significant police resources there is always the danger that the Thin Blue Line becomes too thin and unable to meet other crucial policing tasks.

Secondly, there may be cultural pressure within a police force to reduce the number of incidents recorded as burglaries to increase the chances of meeting the performance target.  For instance, an attempt to gain entry to a house via the front door or a window may be recorded as criminal damage rather than an attempted burglary.  This matters because officers should have the discretion and judgement to report crime accurately and ethically.  It also matters because victims have a right to expect high quality service, and the victim of an attempted burglary will have the opportunity to receive specialist crime prevention advice which a victim of criminal damage would not necessarily obtain.  Finally, it matters because police officers need the most accurate possible data about crime locations and criminal behaviour to catch and arrest burglars.

The evidence put before the Public Administration Select Committee strongly suggested that performance targets – whether imposed by politicians or police authorities – led to performance cultures developing in police forces across the country.

Dozens of officers have told me that relatively recently there was a performance culture in Essex, and some initiatives such as the imposition of time-based targets for the number of arrests distorted officer behaviour and made it more difficult for them to exercise professional discretion in dealing with an incident.  I am pleased to learn that the last time that Chief Officer bonuses for performance were paid in Essex was in 2009-10.  Former Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle declined to accept his performance target bonus as did his Chief Officer team.

On becoming Police and Crime Commissioner, I set the force a clear and simple aspiration: to reduce all crime to ensure there are fewer victims of crime.  I have also made it clear that I am prepared to see the recording of certain types of crime, such as domestic abuse and serious sexual offences, increase.  We need to ensure that victims have the confidence to report such crimes to the force.

Chief Constable Kavanagh has made it clear that he expects the recording of crime in Essex to follow the highest ethical standards, and I totally support that position.  I have spoken with the Audit and Compliance department for Essex Police and reviewed the processes in place in our county for ensuring the integrity of crime data.  I am reassured that they are robust, and a peer review by a neighbouring force will start shortly.

Performance cultures have long tails.  In Essex, we have the leadership in place to ensure that any surviving vestiges of such a culture are eradicated.

You can watch the full PASC session with witness testimony here.

A transcript of all the evidence can be read here.

Further details are available at the PASC website:

Public Administration Committee takes evidence on Crime Statistics

Witnesses

At 9.30am, Tuesday 19 November 2013, committee room 8, committee corridor

  • James Patrick, Metropolitan Police
  • Peter Barron, former Detective Chief Superintendent, Metropolitan Police
  • Dr Rodger Patrick, former Chief Inspector, West Midlands Police
  • Paul Ford, Police Federation
  • Ann Barnes, Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent
  • Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex
  • Paddy Tipping, Police and Crime Commisioner for Nottinghamshire
  • Alan Pughsley, Deputy Chief Constable, Kent Police

Objectives for the session

Particular issues to be explored may include:

  • the extent to which the recorded crime data serves as a reliable indicator of national and local crime trends;
  • the extent to which adequate procedures are in place to promote a culture of data integrity within the police; and
  • the importance of accurate crime data to Police and Crime Commissioners for the purposes of local performance monitoring and accountability.

 

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