Officers accused of cooking the books over crime figures

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An investigation has been launched into allegations that a police force has been "cooking the books" to exaggerate their crime-fighting record.

The inquiry follows allegations that officers in Nottinghamshire Constabulary have used incorrect reporting methods to help artificially increase the number of crimes solved and to under represent the burglary rate. The inquiry, which is believed to be the first of its kind, results from a complaint by a retired former superintendent with the force.

Three officers from Bedfordshire Police have been carrying out the investigation - which is being overseen by the Police Complaints Authority - for the past two months, although news of the inquiry has only just leaked out.

Bedfordshire's Chief Constable, Michael O'Byrne, has been put in overall charge of the inquiry because the outcome could have repercussions for how other forces record their crime statistics.

The recorded number of crimes in Nottinghamshire dropped last year from the 1995 total by 6.6 per cent - to 141,307. The police are coming under increasing pressure to meet an ever-growing list of performance targets as well as reducing the overall crime rate. There is also concern that the emphasis on producing good paper figures has led some officers to massage the statistics.

The allegations involving Nottinghamshire Constabulary, which has 2,300 officers, were first made in November when a retired superintendent wrote to the chairman of the force's police authority.

It is understood that the complaints include claims that officers are incorrectly recording some incidents by downgrading the offence. For example, if a person reports a suspected burglary, in which a window has been broken, the officer may report it as "criminal damage". Offences of criminal damage involving loss of less than pounds 20 are not recorded.

The number of burglaries is also one of the police's key performance indicators so any drop is greatly encouraged. The number of recorded house break-ins in Nottinghamshire has declined in the past few years, dropping by 12.5 per cent last year to about 33,000.

The second allegation is understood to involve officers making exaggerated claims about what are known as "secondary clear-ups".

These include offences attributed to someone already charged or convicted of an offence, for example, someone may confess to a series of crimes during a police visit to prison. Nottinghamshire officers are accused of attributing too many offences and in some cases counting single crimes twice.

A spokesman for Nottinghamshire Constabulary, said the complaint "resolves around the interpretation of Home Office statistical counting rules and involves both primary and secondary detections."