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Clarke weighs into police: Independent's 'solved crimes' survey prompts call for action on laggard forces

KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, yesterday called for 'laggard' police forces to be 'chased up' in the wake of the Independent's survey which revealed a dramatic slump in the number of crimes being solved.

Amid accusations that the figures indicated failures in police efficiency and that officers might be 'working to rule', Mr Clarke, speaking on BBC Radio's The World at One, said that only with better and more detailed statistics than those available could police performance be properly analysed. 'I think the public should know how well the police perform,' he said.

Sources said later that Mr Clarke was privately concerned at the drop in the number of crimes detected in some forces, revealed by the survey, coupled with the decline in arrests in the Metropolitan Police. He was puzzled at the inability of the police to provide adequate explanations for some of the changes.

The Independent survey published yesterday showed a slump in clear-up rates of 5 to 18 percentage points in about a quarter of the 43 forces in England and Wales. Of the 22 forces surveyed, only two showed modest rises in clear-up rates. More forces are expected to report large drops as their 1992 figures are published over the next few weeks, accelerating a trend that began in 1990. The figures are certain to give added emphasis to Mr Clarke's police reform programme.

Mr Clarke said that he wanted better figures on police performance because the existing ones were 'fatally flawed'.

'I think that as a member of the public I want to know how many crimes the police are clearing up, how much crime we have, how effective they are in different places.' Performance indicators developed by the Audit Commission would soon provide better information.

'What we are concerned about is a rising threat to the public. I, therefore, want to make sure the police are so organised that we have the best and most effective service to protect the public and I think we need some better way of measuring the performance so we can chase up the more laggard police (forces) around the country.'

Mr Clarke said he was particularly worried about the decline in arrests in some forces. He had asked Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, for a report on the 12 per cent drop in his force. 'We've more policemen and there's a great deal more crime about and we need explanations for that,' he said. Scotland Yard confirmed later that a report had been sent to Mr Clarke.

Sir Ivan Lawrence, a Conservative MP and chairman of the all- party Home Affairs Committee, said the figures suggested inefficiency in the police performance: 'We are not getting on top of crime despite having more policemen, who are better trained and better paid than ever before. We ought to be getting figures better than this.'

Sir Ivan rejected police suggestions that the extra paperwork and restrictions imposed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act were inhibiting performance, saying the Act was introduced eight years ago. 'Part of the answer may lie in the question of police inefficiency.'

Senior police figures have emphasised that the rise in arrests in some forces shows police are catching more criminals. But Barry Irving, director of the Police Foundation, an independent research body, said yesterday that a rise in arrest rates accompanied by a fall in clear-up rates illustrated police were 'highly active, but not very effective'. 'It may mean that some officers, perhaps disillusioned by a heavy workload and knowing offenders are likely to be released by courts, simply ask the few questions they have to and let them go again because they have nothing on them. Perhaps it's something like a work-to-rule.'

A fall in arrest rates suggested that the public were either stopping giving information to police, or the information was not being used effectively. Mr Irving also felt police were justified when claiming that extra administrative duties, such as disclosure to defence lawyers, was also likely to be responsible.

Chief constables emphasised yesterday that the steep decline in clear-up rates in some forces, particularly Cheshire and Northumbria, was due to the ending of prison visits - where convicted criminals are asked whether they wish to confess to further offences. Mr Clarke supports ending the practice.

The Audit Commission has urged forces to publish 'primary clear-ups' - figures which represent only those crimes which have resulted in some form of charge or cautions - rather than 'secondaries', those taken into consideration at trial, or from prison visits.

A force-by-force breakdown is not available, but according to Home Office Criminal Statistics since 1989, the first year they were fully available, the national average for crimes cleared up by charge or summons has fallen from 18 per cent to 14 per cent of the total committed.

'Useless' crime figures, page 3

Leading article, letters, page 22