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Crime Of The Century - A Chilling Look At Crime Statistics In The UK


In the 2000s, Tony Blair’s New Labour government in Britain adopted a system for performance management of public services, including policing. Having inserted a new set of government-wide performance targets onto the spending control system in 1998, it added a key central monitoring unit working directly to the Prime Minister in 2001.


Governance by targets rests on the assumption that targets change the behaviour of individuals and organizations, but that ‘gaming’ can be kept to some acceptably low level. ‘Gaming’ is here defined as reactive subversion such as ‘hitting the target and missing the point’ or reducing performance where targets do not apply.


Gaming and its effects on Crime Statistics


It is a matter of some concern that the regulatory bodies appointed with the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of crime statistics, have observed that recorded crime rates and detections are particularly susceptible to ‘gaming’ and yet no individual or force has been brought to account for the activity. The dysfunctional effects of Performance Management on the police were highlighted and various types of ‘gaming’ were reported at length in Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) thematic report on Police Integrity as early as 1999.


To quote from early passages of that report:


“The increasingly aggressive and demonstrable performance culture has emerged as a major factor affecting integrity, not least because for some years there has been an apparent tendency for some forces to ‘trawl the margins’ for detections and generally use every means to portray their performance in a good light. The replies from chief constables highlighted the performance culture as a cause for lapses in integrity. A CID trainer offered the view, ‘The performance culture forces you to operate at the edge of the ethical envelope.’


As well as crime recording, Her Majesty’s Inspector found such practices in random breath testing and stop and search activities. There was also evidence of soft-targeting to drive up the figures, for example, night-time reporting of illegally parked vehicles on deprived and disadvantaged estates where complaints from the public were much less likely. In some areas, there appears to be a particularly unhealthy performance culture around probationer training, where it is widely believed that, unless monthly performance targets are met, probationers will not ‘gain their spurs’; in one force, divisions identified their under performer of the month, thereby relying on a shame culture to bolster performance.


‘The performance culture forces you to operate at the edge of the ethical envelope.’


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