Street crime crackdown guilty of exaggerating success, says study

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The Independent Online

An anti-mugging campaign that was championed by Tony Blair and saw street crime cut by 17 per cent exaggerated its success and was "wholly misleading" in parts, inspectors say in a report published today.

Their examination of last year's crackdown on street crime criticises the police for claiming they had met a government target to give treatment to all drug-addicted street robbers within 24 hours of release from custody. In reality, most offenders were given appointments two or three months after their release and up to 97 per cent of the robbers failed to turn up. The report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary says it is "wholly misleading" to claim the Street Crime Initiative met the drug treatment target.

The inspectors are also critical about future funding for the initiative, poor communication between agencies and disquiet at having priorities imposed on police forces by central government.

Last year's anti-robbery crackdown was ordered by the Prime Minister, who told the 10 police forces with the worst problem to reverse the rise of robberies within five months. The inspectors, say the initiative was an "undoubted success in reducing crime and acting as a catalyst for change".

The most recent crime figures showed the overall rate in the 10 high-crime areas was cut by 17 per cent in the first year - a reduction of about 17,000 cases of robbery. The inspectors identify "other major achievements" including better support for victims and witnesses, especially the introduction of video identification parades. But their report says it was also a "missed opportunity" and is critical of some of the reporting which tended to play up the successes, or be overly optimistic, while downplaying bad news.

The inspectors found a "significant mismatch" between reported success on the drugs target and the "reality in practice".

"Whilst assessment of need was being accessed mostly within 24 hours, that masked the fact the second appointment, when the treatment would begin, was routinely nine to 12 weeks later," the inspectors say. The report says too much "gloss" was put on results given to ministers - leaving them potentially "partially informed" and unable to react to problems.

"It was not a case of misleading ministers. It was a case of perhaps, sometimes misinterpretation," Sir Keith Povey, the chief inspector of constabulary, says.

The study also found there was also "insufficient focus on breaking the cycle of offending through effective post-sentence supervision and rehabilitation", raising questions over the long-term success of the scheme.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said the initiative had been an "outstanding success" and organisers would learn from any mistakes.