There is unequivocal evidence that the official recorded crime statistics are unreliable. This has major implications for their use in measuring the performance of police forces. The continued use of league tables, of relative performance of forces, based on problematic data and the use of the crime clear-up rate is nothing short of being knowingly stupid. The over-reliance on the crime clear-up rate also encourages unethical behaviour by the police. Nor is it a fair measure of performance. Worst of all it does nothing to inform the public. Instead it is counterproductive in that it exacerbates the fear of crime in all our communities, very often to way beyond the level of real risk. It skews performance away from policies that address the real causes of crime in our communities. It concentrates scarce police resources on the trivial whilst totally ignoring the effects of serious and organised crime. The clear-up rate encourages unethical recording by the police to minimise the amount of crime recorded, 'cuffing', and artificially inflate the number of crimes 'cleared-up'. Multi-level modelling techniques can be developed that can better describe relative police performance taking into consideration resources and socio-demographic variables. Databases for serious crime show that good-quality crime data can be very useful in solving crime and doing so more quickly The misuses of crime data will have to be recognized and addressed before we can move on to more effective interventions in tackling crime.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 in England and Wales was predicated on the fact that the police alone cannot stop crime and the Act required a partnership approach. It is therefore perverse that the psychological and criminological research which points the way for more effective interventions has been largely ignored, particularly with regard to the early prevention of offending. The White Paper on Police Reform in England and Wales contains commitments to address the prevention of offending by children and young persons and to work with those who are at risk of becoming offenders. Good government should have evidence based policies and practices and government's ignore the available evidence at their peril when they appear to concentrate on minimising the number of offences that get into the official statistics. When this becomes the focus of government policy they end up managing an illusion and not the reality of crime, with interventions that become increasingly dysfunctional.
The time has come for the crime clear-up rate to be consigned to the rubbish bin, for criminological and psychological research to be taken seriously by politicians, policy-makers and practitioners, and for researchers to take a more critical approach to their use of crime data. The present arrangements represent a very significant waste of resources and opportunities. There is an opportunity to develop a set of 'Quality of Life' indicators for community safety that better describes a set of preferred policy outcomes that more realistically reflect people's experience of crime. Meanwhile, all of us, and researchers in particular, should treat official criminal statistics with great caution. The Latin maxim, caveat emptor, applies.
Was this article helpful?