In Defence of Liberty

A Libertarian Conservative's Perspective

Lies, Damned Lies and Crime Statistics

Police forces in England and Wales are routinely manipulating crime statistics, the Commons Public Administration Committee heard. A culture of under-reporting was nurtured in order to meet targets.  Bernard Jenkin, the Committee’s Chair, said he was “shocked that apparently such manipulation of police statistics could possibly happen on such a wide scale and become so institutionally prevalent”. Metropolitan Police constable James Patrick – who is awaiting disciplinary proceedings – found robberies were logged as “theft snatch” to get them “off the books”. After analysing 12 months of data, PC Patrick found that “the Met had effectively been under-recording rape and serious sexual offences by between 22% and 25%”.

Whistle-blowers claim that the police are regularly manipulating crime statistics. (Photo: ALAMY)

Whistle-blowers claim that the police are regularly manipulating crime statistics. (Photo: ALAMY)

In pursuit of slimming figures, multiple crimes have been recorded as a single incident, crimes were downgraded, victims were phoned in an attempt to persuade and pressure them into withdrawing allegations, and there was collusion between offenders and police officers. Peter Barron, a former Detective Chief Superintendent at the Met, said victims were “harassed” into scaling down serious offences. Mr Barron added:

Victims were putting the phone down in disgust, harassed by another call from someone trying to persuade them that they were mistaken about the level of force used.

Dr Rodger Patrick, a former West Midlands Chief Inspector, said criminals were persuaded to admit to crimes they did not commit in exchange for lower charges, or even “sometimes sex, alcohol or access to meals” are offered. Dr Patrick also said that the senior police would “marginalise” junior officers who accurately recording crime. Policing Minister Damian Green said a “robust” inquiry by the Inspectorate of Constabulary into practices of reporting crime would report late next year.

This should be one of the biggest new stories of the year. The Inspectorate of Constabulary’s inquiry may reveal a hideous side to our supposedly honourable police officers. It is morally outrageous for police officers to “harass” victims into downgrading their claims. Javed Khan, the Chief Executive of the charity Victim Support said:

Victims must be confident that they will be taken seriously if they report a crime, so justice can be done. It is the service that is provided to victims, rather than meeting targets, that should be the clear focus for all police forces.

Victims rely on accurate and trustworthy responses to their allegations. The police are meant to uphold the law, but many officers – with full support of superior ranks – have engaged in mass fraud, harassment and bribery. The first principle, defined by Sir Robert Peel, which describes an ethical police force, is:

The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

Police forces do not exist to prevent the recording of crime and disorder. These shocking revelations will degrade our political discourse. When the official statistics attain an unacceptable uncertainty, they cannot be employed to dissuade fears of rising crime or other maladies. When we are unable to be empirical about the state of our nation, we cede ground to polemicists and commentators who crutch upon anecdotes and insinuation.

15 comments on “Lies, Damned Lies and Crime Statistics

  1. ideb8
    November 25, 2013

    It’s bad enough that most top and middle ranks in the police appear to collude in crime reporting ‘gaming’ but why is the whole weight of this piece deflected from the prime culprits?

    Bernard Jenkin MP, the Conservative Chair of the PASC, went out of his way to admit that the police are perennially forced between a rock and a hard place by ..politicians.

    Why no outrage from a libertarian conservative perspective directed at the admitted culprits?

    Q61 Chair: I personally am in no doubt that political leadership has played a big part in the decline of policing standards and the standards of behaviour in the police that you have described. Personally, I would like to apologise on behalf of politicians of all parties, who are responsible for creating this atmosphere in which targets must be achieved, creating the perverse incentives that have created this situation. This must be addressed by the political class as well as the police.

    Have you viewed the committee session or read the transcript (eg, quick link: http://one.provi.so).

    Most police are honest, brave and loyal and are trying to maintain a semblance of service to the public despite pressures and paperwork from above.

    Berate the higher echelons in the force and insist on openness and transparency until the situation is addressed and improves – but the main focus should surely be on how to remove the pressures which have clearly succeeded in undermining the veracity and probity of a larger and larger proportion of our inherently and initially well-intentioned officers.

    • Anthony Masters
      November 25, 2013

      This was largely a descriptive article about the practices of the police force, rather than one assigning blame. Regardless of who blame is assigned to, these practices necessarily lead to an unethical police force.
      The incentives on the police force placed by politicians is deserving of its own separate article. Establishing transparency and maintaining independence are two eclipsing goals for those who believe in ethical policing.
      I am outraged by political pressure onto what should be an independent police service, but this does not exculpate those police officers who engaged in these sometimes sordid acts.

  2. ideb8
    November 25, 2013

    Ok, thanks for clarification. However, this ‘descriptive’ viewpoint seems equivalent to describing a series of pickpocketing crimes by Oliver with appropriate outrage but with no mention at all of Fagin. We await your next article with trepidation, as you excoriate our own Fagins in terms few will regard as merely descriptive..!

    • Anthony Masters
      November 25, 2013

      Yes, though I am a research student, and these articles take time and effort to write.
      I do regard adults as principally responsible for their own actions, though there may be organisations, cultures and social incentives which may instigate such actions, and hence deserve a notable but modicum amount of blame.

      • ideb8
        November 26, 2013

        Ok, Monsieur. Thanks for your time and efforts highlighting these topics in any case, considering your workload. As you regard adults as principally responsible for their own actions, I will assume you exonerate politicians as merely childish – not only for their role in the instigation of this decades-long distortion of figures – and so consequent skewed policies, severely affecting victims – but also for what is clear has been their continuous ‘top down’ pressure over decades and has been the prime driving factor in the perpetuation of both the practices and whistleblower suppression.

        The only solution, given the human nature of both adults and children over the long term, is to remove the pressure. The higher echelons in the police may be vilified for not challenging the pressure from above and instead merely transmitting it or relaying it to the ranks below them – but let’s not smear the whole force and so distort the whole debate as well.

        Whenever a continuous top-down pressure is applied from on high, there you will inevitably encounter metal fatigue and eventual buckling beneath. Even if God applied such pressure to Angels, even their behaviour over aeons might deteriorate..!

      • Anthony Masters
        November 26, 2013

        You assume wrongly. There are, as far as I can tell, two problems that need to be dealt with separately. I have no intention of exonerating politicians.
        The politicization of police forces, and the political pressure applied to the police to deliver rosier statistics, is wrong in of itself. It is incredibly vile because our system of governance is based upon the mutual independence between the government and the police, and the courts. Politicians deserve full excoriation for this.
        However, people are constrained by cultures, they are not coerced by them. These craven cultures triumph precisely because people choose to do what is easy, rather than what is right. If a police officer has rung up a victim to harass them into downgrading their allegation, then that police officer must take principal responsibility for that.
        Lastly, I do not believe every police officer is involved in this manipulation of crime statistics, and I have not “smeared” the whole force. These practices are clearly endemic, and so must be undertaken by a large proportion of the police service. I would highlight the following exchange between Paul Flynn MP and James Patrick:

        Q28 Paul Flynn: Providing false information to get yourself a financial advantage is in itself a crime, so the ethos of the police force is one that is encouraging police officers of all levels to commit crimes.

        James Patrick: Yes.

        Q29 Paul Flynn: If we take the situation that we have now with this change that you just mentioned, with the Police and Crime Commissioners taking over, one Police and Crime Commissioner sacked his Chief Constable. His main charge against her was that she was falsifying and giving a too optimistic picture of the crime figures. From your evidence, it sounds as though this is endemic among police forces.

        James Patrick: Absolutely.

        http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/WrittenEvidence.svc/EvidenceHtml/3697

        Simply, the police’s politicization has been caused by continuous pressure, and so politicians must take full responsibility for that politicization. However, the endemic corruption of the police force is something that individual officers must be accountable — and principally responsible — for.

  3. ideb8
    November 26, 2013

    Yes, every Bobby like every nurse – even every Angel – must challenge the pressure from above which their superiors have been unable to do on their behalf.

    But, when you say..

    “I do regard adults as principally responsible for their own actions, though there may be organisations, cultures and social incentives which may instigate such actions, and hence deserve a notable but modicum amount of blame”

    ..the apparent alacrity with which you ameliorate the responsibility of those at higher ranks than Constable..

    “there MAY be organisations..”
    “which MAY instigate..”
    “but MODICUM amount of blame”

    ..shows (along with their complete absence in your initial post) where you place the major responsibility for the corrosive culture in question.

    You can upbraid the PC on the beat for succombing to the seemingly endemic culture until the cows come home. You may shame or encourage some to challenge it or some more to whistleblow.

    Just as you could focus the responsibility, if you wish, for challenging the parallel corrosive culture at Mid Staffs on the nurses at the coal/bed face, in an equivalent way.

    But these, though valid targets, are easy ones. It is lazy or tabloid vilification.

    The PASC session didn’t only, or even mainly, focus on the Bobby. James in particular criticised the outdated performance related pay and promotion system which doesn’t favour the brave.

    However many brave James Patricks you inspire at the street face, if management has accepted and chosen to rise through a culture they may even have only reluctantly failed to challenge, it is unrealistic as well as blinkered to avert ones gaze, and so influence that of others, away from management and politicians.

    In my book, a promoted manager in charge of 10 subordinates bears 10 times the responsibility due from each of them. The manager must weigh much more heavily any temptation to accept the culture and, in turn, allow it to wash down over his team without his own determined challenge to thwart its progress.

    If politicians can now admit culpability, as happened last Tuesday, it must be incumbent on the senior ranks to grab this unexpectedly offered cover as an opportune fig leaf, allowing them a possibly unique space in which to grab – if willing – the nettle too.

    • Anthony Masters
      November 26, 2013

      I would ask that you read what I actually wrote. I reject the accusation that I am engaging in “tabloid” vilification. I am simply upholding personal responsibility.
      You seem to be under the impression that to refuse to exculpate police officers for their own actions is the equivalent of “to avert ones gaze” at the police management or politicians. It is not.
      Politicians have undoubtedly committed a grave transgression by placing huge pressure on police management to reduce recorded crime. This is wrong because it violates police independence from government. It is outrageous — in of itself — that this has occurred.
      However, this culture — created by the politicians and police mangers — does not exculpate officers of lower ranks. We must uphold the rule of law, and apply disciplinary procedures to any officers guilty of obfuscating crime statistics. In some cases, grave crimes have been committed, and the law must be applied.
      The statement that “a promoted manager in charge of 10 subordinates bears 10 times the responsibility due from each of them” upends personal responsibility. Those subordinates remain responsible for their own actions. If your statement were true, to use an extreme example, a hired assassin would only be guilty of employment, rather than murder.
      I do back your call to change this politicized culture of policing, and this is the opportune time. How we ensure the police remain independent of politicians is a big question, and one I hope myself and others can answer.

  4. ideb8
    November 26, 2013

    A hired assassin is clearly guilty of murder. Each is obviously a valid target (“But these, though valid targets, are easy ones”).

    If the instigator hired 10 assassins, surely you’d hold him guilty of 10 murders, in parallel with his employees, even if he fired no shot himself. Each assassin is guilty of only one murder whereas the employer must face 10 such charges.

    The PASC session didn’t relieve any police officer of complicity, at whatever level. But the logic of performance related pay and promotion implies the focus for change must travel ever upwards – while still retaining the foot soldiers in the field of view but justifiably at its periphery.

    Just as in the NHS, it is lazy logic to highlight and expose mainly the frontline nurses to opprobrium if the Francis report judged that staff numbers available per shift verged on the dangerous.

    Just as James Patrick in the PASC session, although acknowledging the individual responsibility lower ranks must shoulder – and presenting us with an exemplary example – also drew the attention of the committee to the main reason for the inadequate response to the last riots, that staff numbers available per shift also verged on the dangerous.

    As you hope that yourself and others can answer the question of how we ensure the police remain independent of politicians, please ask that all those preselected for the task first examine each others’ assumptions and sympathies, as otherwise we may find further blind alleys are viewed seriously from on high if the focus of the deciding majority remains targeted mainly at those so easily caught in the cul de sac street lights.

    • Anthony Masters
      November 26, 2013

      I think our positions are actually much closer than we both initially realised. Conspiracies to perform crimes are certainly punished by our legal system. In the assassin case, both the hirer and the assassin are found to be culpable. Conspiracies are generally punished to similar extents as the crime itself.
      It becomes more nebulous when discussing cultures, as cultures may be sustained through ignorance. However, all those officers — whatever their rank — who engaged in such activities should be disciplined.
      The politicized culture is wrong in of itself, and should be routed out. Politicians who meddle in the police should be punished at the ballot box.
      I simply believed that practices in the police were worth highlighting, and that we should not exculpate those officers who were involved in these activities. Political incentives, particularly targets, are looked at my blog’s latest article.
      I wouldn’t say it is lazy to look at these things. If we are to discuss the perversity of incentives, then what results from those incentives must be worth discussing.

  5. ideb8
    November 26, 2013

    Hi. Yes, many thanks for your time and efforts. Will be interested to read your various posts as you develop your views and analysis. As you can tell, I’m not looking at the situation from a legal view.

    Francis noted a culture of neglect, even of despair, at Mid Staffs. To discipline “all [nurses] who engaged in such activities” seems less likely to improve matters than some truth and reconciliation process with arbitration perhaps. Lessening the blame culture – which is also often conveniently passed down from on high – would surely encourage more honesty, fewer cover-ups and less denial.

    In a similar way, to discipline all “officers .. who engaged in such activities” may sound appropriate but it again feels an overly legalistic approach if a culture other than just one of blame is preferred.

    What might be the most effective process, if we require officers no longer to persuade victims, rather than their assailants, to recant?

    And what process may be best to ensure that the higher ranks in charge of those officers see the dire consequences to victims of the actions of their staff and publicly admit their primary role in condoning or even encouraging it?

    • Anthony Masters
      November 26, 2013

      Well, my blog does cover a wide range of subjects.
      You say that this approach is “overly legalistic”, but it’s difficult to think of an arbitration process after major scandals that did not include disciplinary actions being taken.

      This conversation was started with you highlighting the perverse incentives created by politicians and the police management. However, failing to punish an act which we admit to being foul or heinous would create a perverse incentive. Punishments must be part of the process by which we cleanse these retched cultures from national institutions. Indeed, requiring only high-ranking members to be punished and reject such practices seems to be condoning those practices — the very thing we wish to avoid. It is worth remembering that cultures cannot be distilled from people.

      In answer to your first question, we should restore victim sovereignty. Dr Patrick gave evidence to the PASC [Q35]:
      That was reinterpreted around about 2005, as a result of the national street crime initiative, and the balance of probability standard became applied to all victims, not just witnesses. In effect, we were going back to the old system where a victim had to prove that actually a crime had occurred and they were a victim of it. Under an evidential crime recording standard or a balance of probability standard, the victim becomes a suspect.

      Victim support groups may allow unrecorded victims to see higher-ranking police officers, so they may see the terrible damage their policies have caused. I think public pressure, vocally expressed by those support groups, would be best in ensuring we receive public apologies.

  6. ideb8
    November 27, 2013

    Well, I assume a truth and reconciliation process with arbitration could keep the focus on revealing the whole truth rather then blame while still invoking disciplinary actions where necesssary/appropriate. Neither extreme, of convenient amnesty vs scapegoat prosecution would bode well if the Augean stables are to be kept clean beyond one spring.

    Just as families at Mid Staffs justifiably require the whole truth as a priority regarding the fate of a relative, so most victims of crime stats ‘gaming’ merit explanations, apologies and probably compensation – with punishment a subsidiary urge.

    Although of course not preferring another extreme and “requiring only high-ranking members to be punished”, I repeat that a focus on a rigorous punishment program would also create perverse incentives to inhibit exposure, exhibit denial and prohibit apology for fear of a regime marked by overly legalistic retribution.

    As the culture is endemic and all-pervasive, a regime of openness and free discussion may be a better antidote than more fear and blame – and one more likely to expose, shame and reverse the tendencies in that culture which perpetuate it.

    The whole truth first, frank discussion and analysis next, no whistleblower suppression or threats, punishment where clearly overdue but a conscious escape from this top-down expectation or encouragement or insistence to condone fraudulent behaviour, imposed fear to speak out and – as at Mid Staffs – resulting passivity, cynicism and despair.

    • Anthony Masters
      November 27, 2013

      Again, I would suggest that our beliefs are actually quite proximate, with each of us giving emphasis to different parts.
      Of course, you attack an extreme position that I have not proposed. Inquiries exist to determine the truth — that is central. I would doubt someone who has been harassed by a police officer or had a relative left to starve in a ward would necessarily believe that punishment was merely a side issue. The truth is always sought before punishments are. However, punishments are an essential part of this purifying process, as this is part of upholding our system of governance — the rule of law.
      As in other inquiries, leniency can be shown to those who willingly come forward, give evidence to the inquiry and submit themselves to disciplinary proceedings. As I’ve said before, cultures which are “endemic and all-pervasive” must be sustained by people. Since you agree that punishments and the failure of punish both establish incentives, it seems difficult to say that such punishments would “inhibit exposure, exhibit denial and prohibit apology”. Uncovering the truth is the role of inquiry — disciplinary proceedings are not suspended. This is not about “fear and blame”, but a necessary part of returning an institution to ethical normality.
      Whistle-blower suppression within public institutions is partially due to their legal standing, so the law must be changed to make it easier for whistle-blowers to come forward.
      I think we’re saying similar things but in a different manner. Inquiries exist to determine the truth of certain events. Extinguishing a culture takes time, establishing proper barriers between politicians and the police is a constitutional matter, and promoting ethical policing should be our main goal.

  7. ideb8
    November 27, 2013

    Hi. Yes, I agree but still feel it’s the emphasis that is going to be all-important, if anything’s going to change.

    The pressure has been admitted as top-down and relentless over recent decades. The parallel with investigating issues relating to years of apartheid are clear.

    The initial hurdle, just to get the talking and admissions of wrong-doing to begin, may be difficult enough. Examples of admissions spoken fearlessly from the top would be a more appropriate trigger for wider discussion than any initial emphasis on persecution and prosecutions.

    Those could surely wait – without being shelved. The courts could become clogged for years otherwise, as we appear to be talking mega-numbers, by the sound of things to come..

    I suspect with our emphasis on the adversarial system though, it’ll all just carry on uninterrupted and deteriorate further – until the next riots. If not beyond.

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2013 by in National Politics and tagged , .
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