POLICE are slower to record sexual offences than cases of assault, robbery and housebreaking, an audit of crime statistics has found.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said the proportion of sexual incidents recorded as a crime within a 72-hour period was lower than any other offence it monitored.
But it said the quality of most crime recording in Scotland overall was good, with the creation of Scotland’s single police force helping to provide greater consistency across the country.
There has been growing scrutiny of crime statistics in Scotland after serious concerns were raised about the reliability of data in England and Wales, particularly amid claims that recorded crime north of the border is at a 40-year low.
Derek Penman, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said the fact that Police Scotland’s own auditing of crime recording mirrored that of his own organisation was an “assurance as to its accuracy”.
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But he said there was room for improvement, notably in the recording of sexual offences.
Four local policing divisions - Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, Ayrshire, Edinburgh and Argyll and West Dunbartonshire - were told to implement improvement plans for crime recording.
The categories audited in the report were sexual offences, violent crime, housebreaking, hate crime and incidents which are re-classified as not being a crime.
The watchdog examined over 8,000 incidents and more than 4,500 crimes, finding that 97 per cent were recorded within three days of being reported to the police.
However, of the 897 crimes which resulted from sexual incidents, the proportion being recorded within three days fell to 90 per cent.
The report noted:“In the other categories, most crimes tend to be recorded within seven days even if the 72-hour limit has been exceeded. For crimes resulting from sexual incidents however, two thirds of the delays were over seven days. Multiple incidents had delays of more than 30 days, including some delays of 90 days.
“Delays may in part be caused by the nature of the incidents being reported. Often, a sexual offence liaison officer is deployed to take a statement from the victim, and this statement can sometimes be gathered over the course of several meetings. Where we felt a delay was justified in the circumstances, we did not record this as an error. In the majority of cases however, there was no explanation on the incident or crime record for the delay.”
The crime audit also highlighted a failure in some sexual incidents involving an “apparent lack on enquiry” and a failure to record a crime where the complainer became uncooperative, but did not retract their initial allegation.
The body also expressed surprise that the same internal scrutiny of rape incidents was not applied to all sexual offences.
And it said under-counting of crime had occurred where a person had been a victim of sexual offences by the same offender, but at different locations. Mr Penman said: “Most incident and crime recording decisions by Police Scotland are good. Some police divisions performed very well and show what can be achieved when a rigorous and victim-based approach is taken to attending, investigation and recording
“A few divisions fell below the standard we would expect and Police Scotland should ensure these divisions develop improvement plans to address their crime recording practice.”
Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “The recording of crime is kept under constant scrutiny at both national and divisional level and we are working with those divisions where compliance has been highlighted by HMICS and can be improved.
“Many of the issues identified by HMICS are already the subject of improvement activity to continue to deliver high levels of service and to ensure that people in Scotland can continue to have full confidence that Police Scotland are recording crime data in an ethical and standardised manner across Scotland.”
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