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


• Forces' assertions that, by and large, they record all allegations of crime appear – in the light of the results of the ‘call tracking’ exercise – to be at odds with practice 'on the ground'.


• Analysis of the 'tracking' data in a way that matches BCS criteria (i.e. covering only reports by victims, and of BCS offences) reduces the scale of the ‘recording shortfall’, but by no means eliminates it. Half of all allegations about personal offences and a quarter of those relating to property offences are not recorded as crime.


• The clear implication from this is that the exercise of ‘police discretion’ is the primary reason for the recording shortfall: the police will often apply an evidential standard to allegations of crime made to them, while the BCS largely accepts the prima facie evidence provided by the complainant.


• There are however likely to be other factors contributing to the recording shortfall. Some victims may indicate they reported offences to the police when they did not, and some ‘BCS offences’ reported to the police may be ‘downgraded’ by the police to non-BCS crime categories.


• The 1998 changes to the Counting Rules promise to eliminate many previous sources of discrepancy – dealing, in particular, with what were termed ‘continuous’ offences – but the new Rules still count a series of crimes against one individual as one crime, whereas the BCS will count the number of occurrences.


• There are a number of potentially valuable methodologies that could be adopted by any future research in this area. The ability to analyse the recording shortfall at a force level would be a major step forward, but this will demand very substantial increases in the size of the BCS sample, which is not an immediate prospect. The true ‘litmus test’, however, would be to track whether specific incidents reported to the BCS, and said to have come to police notice, appear in police records.


A way ahead?


The ‘dark figure’ of crime – the mismatch between crime estimates produced by victimisation surveys and those recorded by the police – is a well-known concept in the most elementary criminology. Much has been written about the ‘reporting’ shortfall; why victims of crime do not report their experiences to the police. By comparison, the ‘recording’ shortfall is under-researched, and widely misunderstood.


This review has started to shed light on this issue. The work reported here is by no means definitive, but the tracking exercise in particular represents the largest examination of its kind yet carried out in the UK. The findings of course tend to lend weight to the validity of the BCS estimates. More specifically, they strongly support the thesis presented by Farrington and Dowd's innovative work some 14 years ago – that as many as half of all crime allegations made to the police are not recorded by them, and that there are wide differences between forces in this respect. Like this earlier study, it found that ‘definite’ allegations are much more likely to be recorded than ‘possible’ allegations. But it goes much


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