Reliability of statistics on crime
At the beginning of 2014, I noted here there was growing public concern about the reliability of statistics on crime, in particular the statistics on recorded crime which comes from individual police forces. In January, the UK Statistics Authority published a report which concluded that: ‘the Authority has removed the National Statistics designation from statistics based on recorded crime data [i.e. data from individual police forces and the National Fraud Office to the Home Office] until such time that Office for National Statistics, with the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary or other appropriate bodies, is able to demonstrate that the quality of the underlying data, and the robustness of the ongoing audit and quality assurance procedures, are sufficient to support its production of statistics based on recorded crime data to a level of quality that meets users’ needs.’
At the same time, the Statistics Authority confirmed that crime statistics which are based on sources other than recorded crime data are not included in this down-grading.
The issue was the subject of a special inquiry by the Public Administration Select Committee of the Housing of Commons (see this blog Jan 2014). In April 2014 it issued a very critical report. It said, in summary:
- 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 Select Committee recommended:
- 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”.
In July 2014, the Government published a response to the Select Committee’s report, which noted that HMIC was undertaking a review of crime recording practices in each of the 43 police forces, and had already published an interim report (which noted they had serious concerns, particularly about the recording of serious sexual offences). It also noted that the new Code of Ethics, which was in the process of becoming a code of practice for policing, dealt – among many other things – with the recording of data. The Home Office noted that better recorded crime statistics might lead to an increase in the numbers of reported crime, but it was keen to assert that this did not mean that crime was on the rise. Other evidence showed that crime was decreasing – in particular the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
A further response from the UK Statistics Authority was published in September 2014.
There is clearly a great deal of technical work needing to be done to restore confidence in the recorded crime statistics.
For further information, see
The Government’s response at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/caught-red-handed-why-we-cant-count-on-police-recorded-crime-statistics
The initial report from the UK Statistics Authority at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/assessment-reports/index.html (entry for 15 January 2014).
The response of the UK Statistics Authority to the Select Committee is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubadm/645/64505.htm
See also the website of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/national-statistician/ns-reports–reviews-and-guidance/national-statistician-s-advisory-committees/crime-statistics-advisory-committee.html