I was recently presented with a sort of gotcha moment (at least, that’s what the intention seemed to be) by a regular commenter, who asked:
Speaking of meaning, what’s the meaning of the significant increase in crime in London?
See chart with the mainly red column:
This was an odd way of showing the rising crime in London because it is a report to the police and crime committee with an odd format, rather than the ONS stats, or the many newspaper articles that have reported on this subject.
I think this comment was in light of the comments on another thread that prompted my piece on whether the 1950s really were a golden age. Whatever the intentions of the commenter were, what do we make of increased crime in London and England as a whole?
Well, it’s worth noting that not all crime is going up – some types of crime are going down. But it’s also worth noting how crime is reported, as The Guardian stated in October:
The Home Office should ban the Office for National Statistics from issuing “police-recorded crime figures”, the latest batch of which were published yesterday. These statistics are part of a concerted campaign by police forces in England and Wales to resist cuts, boost budgets and bias workloads. Headlines indicate knife crime “highest for six years, “alarming increase in violent crime” and “crime surges”. Who says?
Apparently in one year gun crime is “up by 27%”, knife crime by 26% and robberies by 25%. As for stalking and harassment, it has risen by a phenomenal 36%. Violence in South Yorkshire rose by 49%. Apart from being unbelievable, these figures do not record crimes at all, they reflect reporting activity in police stations. This is governed by political policies, media-driven priorities and staff accessibility and numbers.
The only reliable indicator of crime in Britain is the separate ONS crime survey for England and Wales, measuring the public’s experience of crime in the community. This is nothing to do with the police, and it shows crime continuing to fall, currently by a remarkable 9% annually, with falls or “unchanged” in almost all categories. The finding is always published at the same time as the police figures, and gets no headlines. The police and their ONS allies know that well.
The head of the ONS, John Flatley, yesterday cautioned that the police figures “cannot provide a measure of all crime”, and that “improvements made by police forces in recording crime are still a factor”. Improvement is euphemism for bias. The fact that the crime survey of England and Wales does not specify infrequently experienced crimes, such as knife killings, does not justify the ONS publishing figures likely to reflect police distortion and abuse.
Britain’s police are now so centralised that their use of statistics for “shroud-waving” is perhaps inevitable. Forces are fighting to retain employees in a climate of austerity. A political fixation on “historical” and other sex crime is leading some forces to spend as much as a third of their resources on it. They are also trying to dispense with costly community support officers. Yet when they “de-prioritise” burglaries and thefts, they are accused of failing in their duty.
The old police joke is that the best way to “cut crime” is to close a police station. The long decline in recorded figures appeared to coincide with widespread station closures, as well as with many forces reducing drug busts. The current rise in figures may reflect stricter insurance requirements, more openness about sex crime and more online reporting. But “recording” remains a function of police practice, not social misbehaviour.
The ONS brings itself into disrepute by playing politics with figures. It should leave police forces to publish their own records, and publish only its crime survey of England and Wales, warts and all. Meanwhile we still have no idea if knife crime really is going up or down.
Of course, the recording of crime can distort figures dramatically, and this can take on many shapes and forms, whether over time, or the difference between the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW – it used to be called the British Crime Survey) or the police’s own. For example, rape has traditionally been under-reported to a huge degree. Moreover, it was “legal” in marriage until the 1990s in the UK! Therefore, increase in rape numbers since the 1990s must be seen in the context of increased reporting of rape, and the changes in the definitions involved in what rape entails. This does not necessarily mean there has been an increase in real occurrences of rape (though this may or may not be the case).
What has certainly been shown to be true is the increase in various hate crimes over the last year or so, and this, like in America, coincides very neatly with a sharp rise in nationalism. Brexit, and the plethora of divisive front pages in the Daily Mail and Express, have certainly promoted a greater confidence amongst the public to voice right-wing, otherising, nationalistic rhetoric that has fuelled hate crime. Trump and his wall and implicit acceptance of some good people in the KKK has done similar damage.
Recently, in London over the festive and New Year period, there has been a spate of knife attacks and fatalities. Libertarian Spiked magazine stated about this:
The statistics concerning knife crime present a complicated picture. From 2008 until 2014, offences involving knives or other sharp instruments fell from around 36,000 recorded offences to around 25,000. In 2015/16 it increased to 28,900. But this was still 12 per cent lower than in 2010/11.
When it comes to murders, the picture is even less clear. The number of deaths related to knives has gone up and down with no clear pattern since 1977. The numbers peaked in 2006/7, with 271 murders using knives. The share of murders involving sharp instruments reached almost 40 per cent in 2011/2012, but has averaged 37 per cent in the last decade. Overall there appears to be no huge upsurge in knife violence because society overall is becoming less violent, and crime in general is falling.
Whilst figures might be going up, they are lower than previous figures.
The Mayor of London, who compiled that report in the original comment to me, is putting much of the apparent rise in particular types of violent crime in the capital down to underfunding. The narrative of overpsend and resultant austerity is one that has given the green light to the Conservatives to advance their long-held desire for small government, cutting spending and cutting welfare. The damage to social services is being acutely felt – and I can vouch for this in a personal capacity in the education sector. Khan’s response looks to these social causes of crime:
Mr Khan claimed real-terms funding cuts to youth services, community groups, education, probation and the police since the 2010 general election had “reversed decades of progress in tackling the root causes of violent offending”.He also hit out at the “botched” partial privatisation of probation services, the ongoing prisons crisis and “scandalous” reoffending rates.
The Labour Mayor called on ministers to prioritise youth services, community work, mental health, probation and prisons to fight the causes of crime….
“On this Government’s watch, these critical services have been allowed to deteriorate and starved of funding and we are now paying a heavy price,” Mr Khan said….
City Hall claimed that reductions to the central Government funding given to councils has triggered more than £22m of cuts to youth services since 2011, seeing 30 youth centres closed.
It said London’s schools “face £99m in real terms cuts in 2018-19 alone”, with the funding gap for children’s services predicted to reach £2bn by 2020….
Mr Khan’s office said mental health services were also “chronically underfunded”, leaving young people with behavioural problems in later life, and that the proportion of young male convicts returning to crime had risen to almost 40 per cent in London.
The capital’s probation services have been partly handed to one of several private “Community Rehabilitation Companies”, which were heavily criticised in a recent watchdog report accusing them of putting the public at risk.
Senior police officers previously said they were being used as the “service of last resort” for shrinking public services, particularly in mental health, while calling for more funding to tackle rising crime and terrorism.
Sophie Linden, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, said the Met was in a “very difficult position” after officer numbers were cut to 30,000 in the capital.
My concerns, and I’ve been given assurances that it is possible to police London at those numbers, if they go below 30,000, which is exactly what the budget trajectory looks like, that is going to put the safety of Londoners at risk,” she told the London Assembly budget and performance committee on Thursday.
“30,000 officers, we can cope with it, but it is not ideal in any sense because we know demand is rising, the population of Londoners is rising, the young population of London is rising and that comes with its complexities, opportunities as well, but great challenges in terms of policing. It is a real worry.”
She added: “London is not in a good position, it is in no way a better position [than previously], it is in a very, very difficult position, and that is about safety.”
Sir Mackey said cuts were forcing the Met to be more “prescriptive”.
“We are having to make really, really difficult choices in terms of what we can prioritise and what we can do,” he said.
“What you’re seeing is increasing prioritisation of workloads… having to be really, really clear when we take something on or try something new about what gives.”
A Home Office funding settlement announced last month was heavily criticised for relying on elected Police and Crime Commissioners taking more money from council tax to fund forces.
The Metropolitan Police has already released guidelines instructing officers to stop investigating some “low-level crimes” as it works to save £400m by 2020 and other forces are believed to be considering similar policies amid a falling number of police officers.
A recent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary warned that police forces are failing to respond to low-priority crimes because of “significant stress” caused by continued budget cuts amid a huge rise in demand.
We are having our services drastically slashed, from police to social services, cut in the name of austerity, but us cynics know the real truth. It’s short-termist and is biting the government on the arse, because the apparent rise in crime stats is not creating good kudos: see the present situation with the NHS as in the news this week, whereby it is underfunded and suffering massive overstretch.
From the BBC:
The BBC has learnt that police forces across England and Wales are charging fewer people for knife crimes at the same time as offences are rising.
Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from 30 out of 43 police forces showed that the number of knife crime offences that led to offenders being charged or summoned to court had fallen by eight per cent between 2015 and 2016.
We know from research that one of the biggest effects on whether someone commits a crime is not, as some think, a harsher punishment (ineffective deterrent), but the probability of being caught. Of course, with police budgets slashed massively, the effects are pretty obvious. But the probability of getting caught is cut when the police simply can’t do their jobs properly:
Police numbers, including the number of armed police officers, have fallen sharply under Theresa May’s watch first as home secretary between 2010 and 2016 and then as prime minister.
The simple numbers tell the story. In 2010 May as home secretary made the mistake that Margaret Thatcher never made in the 1980s and agreed to a Treasury demand to cut police budgets by 18%.
Over the next five years the number of police officers in England and Wales fell from a peak of 144,353 in 2009 to 122,859 in 2016. At the same time the number of specialist armed police officers has fallen from a peak of 6,796 in 2010 to 5,639 in 2016.
As the graph shows it would appear to be an open and shut case that cuts in police officer numbers have had an impact on the capacity of the police to respond.
That said, crime had been continually falling for some time, which is why Theresa May thought she could get away with massive cuts. However, this has been followed by a recent sharp increase.
We do have confusing variables, such as better recording, and certain types of crime falling. Sarah Newton, a Home Office minister, welcomed the fall in the crime survey estimates and improvements in police recording. “But while it is clear that much of the rise in police-recorded violent offences is due to better recording, we know that some of this increase is likely to be genuine, which is why we have taken urgent action to stop these crimes and keep our communities safe,” she has said.
But if we want crime to fall, as critics have said, we need to be tough on the causes of crime. The police work involved at community levels, the tough inner-city social, familial, welfare services need to be fully funded. Youth services need to be robust (in 2016 they had been cut £387 million in 6 years), as well as mental health services (hugely cut). All of these, under the Conservatives, have taken a hit in one way or another, and thus has had and will have a big effect on crime, including violent crime.
Austerity is not an excuse here. We need better services, and as one of the richest nations on earth, I think it is well worth affording. Conservative ideology comes at a social cost, it really does.