POLICE are slower to record sex offences than cases of assault, robbery and housebreaking, a crime statistics audit 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, amid claims 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”. But he said there was room for improvement.
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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 more than 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, this 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.”
Of the 1,766 violent crimes examined by the watchdog, 38 were classified incorrectly, including 14 common assaults which should have been serious assaults, seven serious assaults which should have been attempted murders and one assault which should have been a sexual assault.
In one case a victim had lost consciousness after being repeatedly hit on the head with a hammer. The inspectorate said the incident should have been recorded as attempted murder, not serious assault.
The crime audit also highlighted a police failure in some sexual incidents involving an “apparent lack of inquiry”.
The body also expressed surprise that the same internal scrutiny of rape incidents was not applied to all sexual offences.
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.”
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.”
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