Police fake crime stats
CRIMES across Edinburgh and the Lothians are being kept off official statistics, an internal police report has revealed.
An investigation found that almost 50 per cent of crimes, mainly vandalism and minor street offences, but some as serious as assault, robbery and fire-raising, are not appearing in the force’s figures because they are being wrongly labelled more minor "suspicious occurrences."
It also found there was under-recording of crime, serious assaults were wrongly being classified as minor and that crimes were being labelled "no crimes".
The report of the investigation, carried out by four senior officers and obtained by the Evening News, says "an inference might be drawn from these results that crime figures are being hidden as suspicious occurrences to reduce their impact on overall crime figures."
The audit’s primary finding was that there was "under-recording, non-recording, and improper recording" of crime.
Lothian and Borders Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins today admitted deficiencies had been identified in the way figures were collected but said the force had already acted on key recommendations."
"Nothing in the report undermines our position as one of the most effective police forces in the United Kingdom nor does it suggest any unethical conduct. It was an issue of interpretation which is now being addressed."
Government inspectors raised concerns that the level of crime in Lothian and Borders was being under-reported as long ago as 1999.
There were also questions raised about the figures’ accuracy internally and inquiries at the time backed this up.
Then, earlier this year, alarm bells were triggered again when Lothian and Borders Police recorded an overall detection rate of 44.9 per cent - their highest in 25 years.
Aware that the figures could be open to public scrutiny, Tom Wood, who has overall responsibility for crime within the force, ordered a thorough investigation into the way crime is recorded.
The investigation, carried out by four officers from Lothian and Borders’ own Force Inspectorate has revealed a damning picture that certain categories of crime are being improperly recorded and do not appear in crime figures, that crimes are going un-recorded, and other crimes are being categorised as less serious than they were or being wrongly classified as "no crime".
The report, a copy of which has been seen by the Evening News, admits it could be inferred that these practices are to keep crime figures down overall.
The investigation showed that up to 50 per cent of crimes, some as serious as assault, robbery and fire-raising, are not appearing in figures because they are being wrongly labelled more minor "suspicious occurrences" and thus don’t appear in annual figures. Where crimes have clearly taken place they have been logged as "suspicious occurrences".
It is thought a high volume of those crimes logged as "suspicious occurrences" are crimes of vandalism and malicious damage.
However, crimes of serious assault, in some cases where victims have been stabbed and hospitalised, officers have downgraded those to "minor assaults".
The inspection team picked the month of October last year at random and looked at the 1038 incidents classified as suspicious occurrences. It found an astounding 491, or 47.3 per cent, were "without question" crimes which had been effectively removed from statistics for no good reason.
The report says: "Whilst many of these incidents related to vandalism or malicious mischief, either to vehicles or property, this was not always the case and a number of other crimes types, some serious, were identified, including cases of theft by housebreaking, assault and robbery, fire-raising and assaulting someone in their own home."
It goes on: "An inference which might be drawn from these results is that crimes are being hidden as suspicious occurrences to reduce their impact on overall crime figures. This [evidence] may suggest that attempts have been made to reduce the overall level of some crimes, particularly ‘volume’ crimes such as vandalism."
In the divisions that recorded the highest proportion of crimes as suspicious occurrences, it was discovered the trend was directly attributed to guidance from crime managers, who instructed officers to consider aspects of criminal intent when investigating damage to property .
The "guidance" stated that in the absence of an intention to damage, there should either be no crime reports, and in cases where there is doubt about the cause of damage, or the reported circumstances cannot be confirmed, a suspicious occurrence report should be created.
A memo sent out by one divisional crime manager stated a crime report must not be submitted where there is "no evidence of malicious intent".
One police officer quoted in the report said: "It’s got to a ridiculous stage. I was dealing with a broken window the other day. It’s been recorded as a suspicious occurrence, because those are the instructions. What do they think happened, that the window broke itself?"
The report recommends that the "suspicious occurrence" practice be removed as a matter of priority.
Ironically, the report has also highlighted the fact that, at the same time while crime is being under-reported generally, pressure is being put on junior police recruits by supervisors and more experienced officer to report as many assaults on fellow officers as possible - even when they have not actually been injured - and particularly in cases where it is believed an accused person is likely to make a complaint against the force. The report states: "It is assumed that this would place officers, subject to a complaint, in a stronger position to defend the allegations made against them."
In addition, a number of cases have been logged as serious police assaults when in fact it is a member of the public who has been injured, and there are cases of duplicate recording.
The report also found that 22 complaints of minor assault were examined by the Crime Strategy and Central Input Section using the current Scottish Executive definition of crime recording, and more than half of those were re-classified to "serious."
In one example found by the team one victim who suffered serious lacerations and was admitted to hospital was recorded as a minor instead of serious assault. In another a victim was stabbed then slashed with a knife - again it was recorded as a minor assault.
It was also discovered that thefts of mobile phones had been classified as "no crime" without further explanation as to why. The decision to classify the thefts as "no crime" is at odds with the policy of Lothian and Borders Police. The report says a "crime champion" should be appointed from within the force’s executive. At the moment the Tom Wood currently has overall responsibility for crime management.
The inspection team has also said the force would benefit from a published crime strategy that would lay the path for future development of effective crime management. The inspection team recommend the changes be implemented as soon as possible.
In response Chief Constable Paddy Tomkins told the Evening News: "We identified deficiencies in the recording system earlier this year and appointed one of our most senior and experienced officers to examine the process and recommend a course of action to rectify matters. This was part of our effort to continually improve the effectiveness of what we do.
"The report pinpointed difficulties in interpretation of the guidelines for recording crime in Scotland. This was particularly evident over definitions in some areas of crime for example the boundary between a minor assault and serious assault and the line between less serious crimes of malicious damage.
"Accurate crime recording is as essential to effective policing as is good quality intelligence. We therefore place great emphasis on making sure our systems are both rigorous and will bear close scrutiny.
"We immediately shared our findings with the HMI for Scotland and other forces and have revised procedures in Lothian and Borders Police in line with the recommendations of the report.
"These include issuing clear and unequivocal guidance on recording practices, appointing one executive officer to be a Registrar to guarantee quality standards and, through ACPOS and the HMI, suggesting the establishment of a National Crime Recording Standard, similar to that which operates in England and Wales.
"The guidelines for the recording of crime are broadly structured and are open to professional interpretation. We believe we need a consistent approach within the force and nationally, and the work from this report is a valuable contribution to achieving that.
"Nothing in the report undermines our position as one of the most effective police forces in the United Kingdom, nor does it suggest any unethical conduct."
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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