Violent crimes are being ignored by police, says report

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The Independent Online

Violent crimes such as assault and domestic attacks are routinely being wrongly ignored by the police rather than investigated, a report revealed today.



The police inspectorate found that one in three decisions to record a violent incident as “no crime” were wrong. If the findings, based on a small sample, are repeated across England and Wales it would mean that an estimated 5,000 violent offences a year are being wrongly dismissed.

Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “It’s a very high error rate on a small sample. For us, as the regulator, it’s a matter of concern.”

Of the 479 incidents that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) examined, 35.7 per cent of the decisions were found to be wrong.

The report’s findings raise concerns that officers are under pressure to dismiss some crimes in order to make their forces appear better and to meet government targets.

Douglas Paxton, the assistant chief constable of Staffordshire police and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (Acpo) lead on crime statistics, said: “This review indicates that in the vast majority of cases recording is accurate but that we need to look closely and carefully at some areas of variation and inconsistency.

“This was a statistically small sample but we welcome the recommendations in this review and ACPO will move quickly to help and support forces in improved decision-making and greater transparency.”

Mr O’Connor announced that next year he would review when a “no crime” should be recorded. That will take place next year. He also called on ministers to review the offence of assault, saying that the 150-year-old law, which divides crimes into different categories such as grevious bodily harm and actual bodily harm, was too complex.

As well as disguising the true extent of violent crime, a wrong “no crime” decision affects the help given to the victim. Those who find their crimes have been downgraded by the police could find themselves losing out on victim support services.

Mr O'Connor added: “While the actual numbers of wrongly recorded crimes are small, this is not about statistics but about victims - victims that need police help the most.

“The emotional and psychological effects of violent crime can linger long after the injuries have healed. If crimes are wrongly recorded as 'incidents' or 'no crime', the victims will not receive the standard of care and help they deserve.”The HMIC report came on the same day that the quarterly crime statistics were released by the Home Office. They showed that between April and June, compared to the same three-month period last year, more burglaries, robberies and personal thefts were recorded.

Domestic burglary rose by 3 per cent, robbery by 1 per cent and personal theft by 5 per cent. The economic downturn is one possible reason for the rise. However, overall crime in England and Wales fell by 4 per cent, the fourth successive quarter there has been a drop in crime.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: “The increase in burglary rates is worrying since it is the unemployed who are most likely to be the victims – making life even tougher for them at the moment.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “This is the fourth quarter in a row in which theft and burglary have risen as the recession bites. Senior police officers warn that we have not yet seen the full extent of the credit crunch crime wave.”

Curiously, instances of air rage are also on the increase, with alcohol the main cause of bad behaviour on planes. There were 3,485 reported incidents of disruptive behaviour aboard UK aircraft between April 2008 and March 2009, a rise on the 2007-08 figure of 2,702. Alcohol was involved in 37 per cent of incidents.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: “It is a worrying trend that drunken incidents on UK aircraft are continuing to rise. A few rotten apples are bringing British travellers into disrepute.

“These troublemakers should not be tolerated and airlines’ cabin crew should be fully supported when having to deal with these incidents of significant anti-social behaviour.”