Crime detection rates fall as burglary and car crime rise

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The Independent Online

The crime detection rates of most police forces in England and Wales deteriorated last year, with a sharp slump in some parts of the country, according to performance figures released yesterday.

Home Office figures showed that 32 of the 43 forces reported a downturn in the percentage of crimes solved, with 33 forces also seeing a cut in the number of offenders brought to justice compared with the previous year. The Government defended the figures, saying that the number of crimes had gone up and that the total number of cases solved had increased over the past 12 months, even though the percentage detection rates were down.

The figures were included in the second publication of complex "spidergrams" - designed to be easy-to-understand, "at-a-glance" measures of how each of the forces was doing.

Chief constables had strongly resisted using league tables and some critics claimed that the introduction of the watered-down guides, when first brought out last year, merely added to bureaucracy.

The tables, compiled from existing statistics, showed big swings in performance compared with the previous year. In Dorset the percentage of offences detected went down by 21 per cent and in Gwent it was down by 25 per cent. Northamptonshire was down 23 per cent on the percentage of offences brought to justice. However, in Staffordshire, the number of solved crimes went up by 20 per cent in the year compared with the previous 12 months and the City of London recorded a 16 per cent increase.

Hazel Blears, the minister for police, said: "The overall detection rate is going up but obviously we have work to do in some forces." She said there were 1.4 million detected crimes in 2002-03, an increase of 8 per cent, but recorded crime had also gone up. The number of sanctions imposed by the courts had also risen 3 per cent year-on-year.

The police performance monitors also included, for the first time, bar charts showing how forces performed compared with others of a similar nature, such as the Metropolitan Police, Merseyside and the West Midlands Police.

The figures were based on five performance indicators - crime fighting, number of crimes, public confidence, use of resources and fear of crime. The crimefighting statistics included only burglaries, robberies and vehicle crime, offences where the Government claims to have secured significant improvements.

Offences such as gun crime, where the Government has been most vulnerable to criticism with sharply rising levels of violence, were not included in the crime-reduction measure. The Home Office said violent crime, including sexual assault and domestic violence, would be included in performance monitors in future years. The figures also showed that burglary was up last year in 29 out of 43 forces, with the biggest increase, 33 per cent, in North Wales. Vehicle crime was up in 23 out of the 43 forces, supporting a survey published yesterday by Autoglass that showed motorists suffered more than 2.5 million cases of car crime last year.

Even though officers in Cambridgeshire had solved more cases in 2002-03, the force was shown to be below average in all five areas assessed. Nottinghamshire and Avon and Somerset were below average in four, Humberside in three and Norfolk in two. Four forces, Cumbria, Devon and Cornwall, Northumbria and Suffolk, were above average in all five categories. The Home Office's police standards unit is already working with six forces - Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Cleveland, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester - and is about to start work with Humberside.

David Stevens, the Association of Chief Police Officers' spokesman on police performance, said: "We are keen to learn from any assessment of police performance as we want to do everything reasonably possible to further improve our service to the public."