Recorded Crime Statistics for the 12 months ending 31 March 2001 Background Note

Police recording practice 1. Police crime recording practices have been subject to sustained criticism for a number of years. These criticisms have focused on different elements, most of which can be contained within two headings: firstly, the incomplete approach by individual officers to the recording of allegations made by members of the public such that the crimes contained in those allegations fail to be included within the numbers of crimes reported by the police; and secondly, an inconsistent approach to the recording of crimes between forces such that different forces might tend to record or not record the same crime, or record those crimes to differing degrees. 2. The former problem has been well illustrated by the British Crime Survey over a number of years. This survey has consistently produced estimates for crimes well above the numbers recorded in the police statistics. A proportion of this gap arises from the public's own reluctance to report certain crimes to the police, whether that is because they do not consider the crime serious enough to justify police involvement (e.g. a very minor theft), because they feel that police involvement might detrimentally affect their relationships (e.g. some cases of minor assault or domestic violence) or perhaps because they do not believe that the police would be able to resolve the crime. However, an additional and yet equally large gap occurs for those crimes that the public claim to have reported to the police. The BCS produces estimates around twice the level of the number of recorded crimes in a comparable category and this "recording shortfall" is a result of police recording practices. 3. Due to an awareness of the problems identified with police recording of crime allegations the Home Office commissioned research into the variation in recording practice in five forces. The results of this research were published as the "Review of police forces' crime recording practices" (HORS 204, Home Office, 2000). This report concluded that:
"Forces' assertions that, by and large, they record all allegations of crime appear – in the light of the results of the ‘call tracking’ exercise – to be at odds with practice 'on the ground'… "[and] ‘police discretion’ is the primary reason for the recording shortfall: the police will often apply an evidential standard to allegations of crime made to them, while the BCS largely accepts the prima facie evidence provided by the complainant."

4. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary had been aware of the problems in the police crime counts for some time and therefore engaged in a thematic inspection to address these issues. The resulting report "On the Record" (Home Office, July 2000) set out the extent, causes and problems with the current variation in police recording practices. It concluded that there were: major differences in procedures and protocols across forces, considerable complexity and difficulties faced by police forces in recording incidents and crimes, which accounted for variations in practice, and a need for all forces to have in place accurate and ethical crime recording systems under-pinned by robust auditing systems.

5. The report stated that there was an urgent need for guidance to forces on whether to adopt the 'prima facie' (allegation-led) or 'evidential' models for crime recording. HMIC

recognised that addressing these problems could lead to a significant increase in the level of recorded crime, perhaps as much as one third, and that this increase would not bear any relationship to the real level of crime experienced by society. The National Crime Recording Standard 6. As a result of HMIC's On The Record, and the Home Office research report, an increased awareness of different recording practices amongst and within police forces led the Association of Chief Police Officers to establish a group to develop proposals to ensure greater consistency in the recording of crimes. At the same time the Home Office had commissioned a review of crime statistics as the first of the national statistics reviews required under the new Framework for National Statistics. This review - the Review of Crime Statistics (Home Office, July 2000) - was published concurrently with the two reports already mentioned and set out a strategy for improving the way in which crime statistics were produced, collated and published. An expert group, including nominees of the two main opposition parties, convened to consider the responses to the consultation exercise confirmed the recommendations made in this review. 7. These various strands led to discussions with ACPO around developing a better system for crime recording and in April this year ACPO produced a new National Crime Recording Standard to try to ensure greater compatibility of recording practices between and within forces. ACPO Council endorsed the new standard at the end of April 2001. The new standard has two main aims: a. To move the crime counts for the 43 forces of England and Wales onto a more consistent national basis; and b. To take a more victim-centred approach to crime recording. 8. The ACPO standard is based on increasing the clarity and transparency in recording crimes - and a move towards a more comprehensive recording of crimes reported to the police by the public. This will inevitably lead to increases in police recorded crime. In particular, it will lead to the inclusion of a larger number of low level crimes that might previously have been omitted from the police recorded crime statistics. Whilst allegations which clearly have no basis in fact or for which there is evidence to the contrary will be weeded out of the published recorded crime statistics, they will all require initial recording and a written justification as to why that 'no criming' decision occurred. Any allegation of crime which cannot be justified as 'no crime' will remain on the books as outstanding. These practices will be audited regularly, both by forces themselves and by HMIC. 9. Although it is recognised the new practices are likely to increase the recorded crime statistics over and above what they might show in the absence of such a change, this will mean that all police forces move to a better recording practice and should result in ministers, parliament and the public having better and more reliable information to understand crime trends. It should also provide a better basis for HMIC and the new Standards and Effectiveness Unit to judge comparative performance. As HMIC pointed out, it will also benefit police forces by ensuring that they have a comprehensive database of information on which to base their assessments of 'hot spots' and other criminal activity, and decisions on their response. However, it will require clear and careful explanation to the public whilst the transition takes place over the next two years, and it is by no means certain that it will completely eradicate inconsistencies. 10. Over the last two years, five forces have already moved to recording in the way recommended by the new standard. A few other forces moved towards this position some time before. The five forces are West Midlands (who had completed the transition early in

2000-01), Staffordshire, Lancashire, Kent and Avon & Somerset. Although the timing of the move was different in each case, early indications suggest that these forces are likely to be showing increases in total crime in the July crime statistics (e.g. in the 12 months to end-of-March). It should be emphasised, again, that these increases do not mean that crime levels within these forces will necessarily have increased. 11. Although we can unpack the effects of the new process to some extent, we cannot do so with the degree of clarity that was possible for the counting rule changes introduced by the previous Home Secretary. This is because of the uncertainty over precisely which offences will be affected and to what degree in each force: because of the present variation in practices between and within forces that these changes seek to address. It has been argued that whilst the standard will increase total recorded crime, and specifically violent crime (due to the predominance of low level assaults), it will not greatly affect the government's key Public Service Agreement targets - to reduce burglary, vehicle crime and robbery. Further consideration of the effect of the new standard will be provided with the Recorded Crime statistical bulletin when it is published on the 19th July. The adoption of the standard by all other forces will show in the figures over the next two years. We expect the main effects to appear in the data for 2001-02, which would be published in summer of 2002. Boundary changes in Surrey, Hertforshire, Essex and the Metropolitan Police 12. Force comparisons between 31 March 2000 and 31 March 2001 will also be affected by boundary changes between four forces. These changes resulted in the Metropolitan Police Force’s area being reduced to that of Greater London, with the remaining parts forming parts of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey, according to county boundaries. The effect was to reduce the population in the area policed by the Metropolitan force by over half a million, while increasing Essex by 73,000. Hertfordshire by 157,000 and Surrey by 297,000 (based on 2000 mid-year population estimates from the Office of National Statistics). The net effect will be a sizeable increase in the number of recorded crimes reported by Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex, and a comparable fall in crime in the Metropolitan Police Service. 13. Care therefore needs to be exercised in making an assessment of the relative performance of these four forces, in addition to taking into account any changes resulting from moves to the new National Crime Recording Standard. Additional comment will be made in the bulletin and comparisons on a like-for-like basis will be provided for some of the statistics relating to the affected forces. 14. In contrast to the new standard, these boundary changes will not affect the national total of recorded crime.

Home Office Research Development Statistics July 2001