West Yorkshire is burglary hot spot, crime study shows

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The Independent Online

People in some parts of Britain are more than 10 times as likely than other householders to have their homes broken into, crime figures show.

Statistics from the Home Office reveal that people in Leeds and surrounding areas of West Yorkshire run the greatest risk of burglary. They experience 446 break-ins a year for every 10,000 properties, more than twice the average of 202 for England and Wales.

Manchester and Nottinghamshire were also burglary hot spots, with corresponding figures of 408 and 382.

At the other end of the scale, people in the Dyfed Powys police force area rarely experienced the loss and insecurity that burglars bring. The number of break-ins per 10,000 properties was just 32.

The difference in burglary rates can be vast even among police forces with similar demographics, such as Manchester and London. The capital had 240 burglaries per 10,000 households - a 10-year low - compared to Manchester's 408.

The big variation in crime fighting records among forces in England and Wales is among the issues that the former US Marine who heads the Home Office's police standards unit will have to tackle. Paul Evans, a former commissioner of police in Boston, Massachusetts, became the first foreigner with direct control over British policing when he took up his new post last month.

David Blunkett has been pressing police chiefs with high rates of crime to learn from similar forces which have much better records.

Overall, the number of domestic break-ins has dropped sharply from record highs in 1992 and 1993, although it is still greater than it was 20 years ago.

The statistics, which compare crime rates in the year ending April 2003 with the year to April 2002, reveals that Suffolk has the second-lowest rate of domestic burglaries with 81 per 10,000 homes.

West Yorkshire's record of 446 break-ins looks particularly poor when compared with other big city forces such as Merseyside, which experienced 256 burglaries per 10,000 properties, and West Midlands, where the figure was 261.

The bulk of the burglaries in the West Yorkshire police area were in Leeds and Bradford, which accounted for 60 per cent of the domestic break-ins. Access via a network of motorways makes the region, which includes Wakefield, Huddersfield and Halifax, easy for criminals to reach from neighbouring regions.

West Yorkshire Police has 5,200 officers to look after 2,100,000 people, making it the fourth-largest force in England and Wales. The force says that part of the reason for the rise in burglaries in the early part of last year was because large number of officers had to be redeployed to deal with other serious crime investigations such as shootings and muggings. It also says that compared with other metropolitan forces it is severely understaffed.

Since April, it says the number of burglaries has dropped by 2,262, or 10 per cent compared to the similar period the year before. Anti-burglary initiatives include a focus on students, who are seen as offering easy pickings for burglars.

The force with the lowest burglary rate is the one the covers the largest geographical area. Dyfed Powys is among the country's smallest forces with nearly 1,200 officers to police 500,000 people in 2.7 million acres of west Wales, including the towns of Aberystwyth and Carmarthen.

The force believes the low burglary rate is partly due to the emphasis it puts on neighbourhood policing and a strong sense of community, which means people look out for each other. This includes a high proportion of neighbourhood watch schemes and initiatives such as the "Bobby Van" in which elderly burglary victims have locks fitted and security features fitted in their homes. Another reason for the low rate of break-ins is that the force has yet to fully adopt new crime-recording measures, which are expected to see burglary rates rise by about 20 per cent.

But it is not just rural forces with low rates. Surrey, which includes Staines, Guildford, and Woking, suffers 81 burglaries per 10,000 households. The force attributes its success to police operations that concentrate on suspected multiple offenders and use of neighbourhood officers.

But the figures for recorded burglaries, do not show the whole picture, with only about half appearing in the official records. Home Office statisticians estimate that only 65 per cent of domestic burglaries are reported to police and, of those, 71 per cent are recorded.

In the year to April 2003, there were 437,644 recorded burglaries. This compares with figures in the British Crime Survey (BCS) - which is considered the most accurate reflection because it questions householders - which found that 3.4 per cent of households in England and Wales interviewed in the 2002-03 had suffered at least one domestic burglary in the previous 12 months. The number of domestic burglaries in England and Wales was estimated by the BCS to be 974,000, of which 561,000 were break-ins with entry and 412,000 were attempted burglaries. In 1993, the total stood at 1,755,000.

This means, the Home Office criminologists say, that the average household in England and Wales might expect to become the victim of a burglary with entry once every 50 years.