April 19 2024
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Whistleblowers’ diary: ‘no criming’ the stats

Whistleblowers’ diary: ‘no criming’ the stats

'Data path' by r2hox, from Flickr, creative comms

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'Data path' by r2hox, from Flickr, creative comms

‘Data path’ by r2hox, from Flickr, creative comms

A year since the Public Administration Select Committee inquiry into Crime Statistics first sat, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) release their final report into police crime recording. The findings are stark, but their words ring hollow.

Tomorrow it will be exactly one year since I walked, terrified, into the House of Commons and told the Public Administration Select Committee that the Metropolitan Police Service was fiddling the crime figures.

A lot has happened since then (including being forced to leave the job that I loved) and, today, the HMIC released their report into ‘Crime Data Integrity’, which grabbed some headlines in many of the newspapers. I spoke to Sky News about it, too.

The report makes a grim read, in summary concluding:

  • The national average of under-recording of crime is 19% – just under one in five – which amounts to over 800,000 crimes each year
  • Police were found to be less likely to record violent and sexual offences as crimes than other crime types. On the national average, over a quarter of sexual offences and a third of violent crime reported to the police each year are not being recorded

‘The first duty of the police is to protect the public and reduce crime. A national crime-recording rate of 81 per cent is inexcusably poor. Failure properly [sic] to record crime is indefensible. This is not about numbers and dry statistics; it’s about victims and the protection of the public.’
Tom Winsor, head of the HMIC

The HMIC stresses that its inspection was into ‘the integrity of police recorded crime data; it was not an inspection or inquiry into the integrity of the police’. It found ‘relatively little firm evidence’ of ‘undue pressure being put on officers to manipulate figures, despite allegations and assertions to that effect’.

I would argue that the integrity of the police and the crimes that they record are completely inseparable and, for this reason, the report isn’t worth the paper it is written on. What the HMIC have done, in effect, is ‘no-crimed’ any allegation of police wrongdoing.

Despite the assertion of little or no evidence of pressure, the report itself confirms that wrong has been done. The HMIC say ‘in a survey of over 17,000 police officers and staff, 39% of 8,600 who said they had responsibility for making crime-recording decisions reported that performance and other pressures were distorting those decisions, and when presented with that picture, a number of forces admitted it’.

This was never about numbers, it was about the treatment of victims, misleading the public and Parliament, about police forces lying to themselves – and incorrectly deploying their own resource as a result. It was about offenders being left to offend, and cases that should have been brought to justice languishing, unseen, in drawers and computer filing systems.

This is about about dishonesty and people making personal gains from such behaviour.

As I said in my original written evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee Inquiry: ‘The police promotion system has, for a number of years, operated by seeking examples of “improvements” or “reductions”, such as those represented statistically which relate to crimes or resource. For me one of the most terrifying aspects of what I have discovered is that all of those who have obtained the pecuniary advantage of promotion, in at least the last eight years, must now be investigated. To say it bluntly, no single officer from the rank of Sergeant to Chief Constable or Commissioner can be exempted from suspicion of not only police misconduct, but of serious criminal offences.’

Senior police officers have known about the manipulation of crime figures for over 30 years – see here – and yet risen to heady heights.

This is an inquiry into police integrity, whether the HMIC like it or not. Failing to act with honesty and integrity is a gross misconduct offence; wilfully neglect of duty is misconduct in a public office; withholding evidence in investigations or from the courts is perverting the course of justice; offering incentives for certain behaviours is bribery; and using false information to acquire a gain or cause a loss is fraud.

There is no appetite to call it what it is, and the reason is two-fold. Firstly, the entire command structure of policing is under suspicion and, secondly, because there is nobody to investigate this. The HMIC have made clear they will ‘no crime’ the matter and other bodies, with the requisite teeth, are absent.

What we will inevitably be left with is ‘organisational learning’, a ticking time-bomb and the hollow ring of the HMIC’s words: ‘Forces are making considerable efforts to change the culture in which such practices were permitted’. As it stands, we will still be counting the costs of fiddled crime figures for years to come.