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


Technical changes to the statistics have been confusing and a reduction in total crime has been greeted with disbelief


When the Labour government came to power in 1997, the Home Office was publishing police recorded crime statistics annually and the British Crime Survey results separately bi-annually. The Home Office had also carried out a one-off survey of commercial and industrial victimisation.


In 1998, new counting rules for crime were introduced which extended the list of so-called ‘notifiable offences’ – that is, those offences that police forces must report to the Home Office for inclusion in the national crime statistics. The new rules were introduced because the Home Office wanted the crime statistics to reflect more directly the experience of victims and to ensure that police forces could not avoid reporting notifiable offences by downgrading them into the non- notifiable category. However, one of the consequences of the changes was to increase the number of crimes recorded in the national crime statistics.


In order to be able to quantify the effect of these rule changes, for one year only the Home Office put in place a double counting procedure using both the old and the new rules. As a result, the effects of the change in the counting rules were clearly understood by commentators and key opinion formers and the step change in the crime series was accepted with little adverse criticism.


However, some consequences of this change were later to generate problems as criticism of Home Office crime statistics grew.


In 1999, the Home Office’s Director of Research & Statistics set up a review of crime statistics. The report5


should be more useful for problem solving and (ii) that the technical quality and validity of the information should be improved. There were two recommendations in particular that were to influence the events that followed.


The first recommendation was that the BCS should be an annual rather than bi-annual survey and should be enlarged to enable some estimates of victimisation to be made at the police force level, rather than just the national level. In order to achieve this change, the sample size of the BCS was doubled to over 40,000.


The second recommendation was that the BCS and police recorded crime statistics should be published together, with a single analysis of crime trends drawing on both sources in order to provide a more complete and consistent picture of crime. This meant that for the first time direct comparison of the two series would be available in a single report.


At the same time as the review report was published, the Home Office also published two explorations of police crime recording practices. One was a research report on police recording6 the other a report on police practices by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC)7


these reports gave the same important message: the recording of crime by the police was not standardised even within forces let alone between forces.


Two other factors gave this finding even more importance. First, crime prevention techniques had developed rapidly but crucially depended on more accurate and reliable data than was achievable if the nature and quality of local recording of crime were to continue to be so varied. Second, the


51 and . Both of was published in 2000 and the main thrust of its recommendations was (i) that the statistics


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