Saturday, January 21, 2006

 

Crime really is coming down

Crime is something which concerns everyone and is always a political football, especially at election times. But is the situation as bad as we are often led to believe? Certainly it used to be bad. The BBC Panorama programme on 2 August 1993 revealed how widespread the perception of crime is in the UK. In a study commissioned by the BBC, majorities were found who had been burgled in the previous year and who expected to be burgled again. Crime is ubiquitous and all-pervading. Many people can recall a different era when it was safe to leave a car unlocked for half an hour or more or to leave doors unlocked at night. Not now. In 1921, a mere 103,000 notifiable offences were recorded; by 1979, the number was 2.5 million; by 1993, it had increased to an alarming 5.7 million, a 128 per cent increase in fourteen years. During the mid-1990s the figures began to fall, although the first two years of the new millennium witnessed a new upward curve.
According to the British Crime Survey, a survey of victims, not reported offences, (and widely regarded by criminologists as the most reliable indicator of crime trends) 1992, 94 per cent of all notified crimes were against property, while 5 per cent were crimes of violence. By 2002 the BCS showed, contrary to recorded figures, a surprising drop back down to the levels of the early 1980s.
Figures for 1998 exceeded 5 million but reflected a new way of recording crime that counted every crime suffered by a victim, e.g. a man stealing six cars is now recorded as six offences not one. In addition, new categories of crime were recorded, including ‘possession of drugs’ and ‘common assault’. This tended to inflate crime figures misleadingly.

Using the ‘old rules’, the 1998 figures revealed the sixth successive annual fall, although the subsequent increases up to 2002 were relatively small. From there annual BCS figures showed surprisingly large reductions. Figures for domestic burglary fell by one fifth during the twelve months from 2003-4 to 2004-5; vehicle thefts fell by 11 per cent during the same period and violent crime by 7 per cent. The figures recorded by police tend to be less cheering as they are often in conflict with the Home Office’s BCS. So, for example, Home Office experts challenge that violent crime has really increased and attribute the difference to changes in reporting and recording practices. Hazel Blears, the Home office minister added, back in 2005, that the pattern of crime recording had changed with people more likely than before to report low-level scuffles to the police and to the ‘increased activity of police on Friday and Saturday nights in city centres.’

Reductions in burglary though matched exactly, prompting the assistant director of Home Office research, Jon Simmons, to note at the time that it was the biggest fall registered since 1915, bringing overall numbers back to the level of 1981. This means the risk of being burgled had declined from once every 58 years from a high of once every 27 years in 1995. Moreover, apparent increases in sexual crimes were explicable, according to the Home Office, by the fact that a new crime- indecent exposure- had been added to this category. Using BCS figures the overall reduction in crime since the 1995 peak, was a massive and unprecedented 44 per cent.
And yet figures for fear of crime show that over half the public think crime is still increasing and not reducing as it almost certainly is. maybe our police are not as bad as they are often painted?

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