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Sunday, 9 January 2011

What is Crime? - notifiable offences?

I want to write about police recorded crime and notifiable offences. I wanted to give you a bit history to make it all a bit more interesting, otherwise it would have just been "police recorded crime is confined to notifiable offences. They are called notifiable offences because the Home Office requires all Home Office police forces to notify it of the numbers of these crimes that occur each year in their territorial jurisdiction based on Home Office counting rules". The current ones can be found here, which also includes a link to a list of notifiable offences.

You would think the reason why no one has apparently written a paper outlining how the system came about is because it is deadly boring and not worth the effort. I actually think it is a quite an interesting story if I have got the right end of the stick - my sole source is Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings and therefore quite a good source; it is now helpfully on line from 1803 onward.

The first mention of crime in online Hansard is in 1824 in a debate about magistrates and the increased level of committals, convictions and executions. This was of course before the first police force was introduced - the Metropolitan Police in London in 1829. It is apparent from the debate that the moral health of the country was measured by these Crown Court statistics which had been collected for at least 15 years before the debate. In fact in 1828 it was these same source of statistics that was used by the Home Secretary Robert Peel to show that committals had increase by almost a third in the previous seven years to justify the introduction of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Possibly the most scathing attack on government statistics ever was made by Lord Brougham on 3rd of March 1856  (in the House of Lords) when he showed that the Judicial Statistics that had provided evidence for Government policies for at least the previous 40 years were worse than useless. Even more embarassing was the fact that the equivalent French statistics based on Guerry's work were almost perfect in comparison, at least according to Lord Brougham. The speech included the following;
Hitherto I have spoken of offences and offenders as recorded in the proceedings of courts, whether of trial or of police; but it is of the greatest importance to ascertain as far as possible the number of crimes which never reach any court: nothing can be more essential to the formation of an estimate touching the state of crimes in the community, and the action of the law in detecting and in preventing them.
His long speech came to an end with a very long list of judicial statistics that should be collected in the future including crimes that do not reach the courts - police recorded crime. In reply the Lord Chancellor said that Lord Brougham suggestions would be looked at seriously.

Exactly a week later on 10th March 1856 the Police (Counties and Boroughs) Bill was debated in the House of Commons. This became the Counties and Boroughs Police Act 1856 that made it compulsory for any County or Borough that did not already have a police force to introduce one. It also created what is now Her Majesties' Inspectorate of Constabularies to report regularly to the Home Secretary regarding the efficiency of each police force (see here). It is known that the first police recorded crime statistics were collected for the year 1856 so there seems to have been some co-ordination behind the scenes for the Home Office to draw up a list of notifiable offences.

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