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Monday, 24 January 2011

The British Crime Survey intial crime victimisation questions

I am going to try to explain something quite complex in this post but it is important to my research. It relates to the issue I discussed in my last post; the difference between the public's labelling of crime based the everyday use and common knowledge of the English language and the legal definition of criminal offences and how they are counted and categorised by the Home Office.

I have decided the best way to explain this is by reference to the methodology used in the British Crime Survey (BCS). The BCS is a survey of the general adult population of England and Wales that selects a sample of about 44,000 people a year to represent the total population about 44 million. The survey includes asking questions about whether the selected representative of the selected household has been a victim of crimes. Now because the interviewer can not assume that the person being interviewed has specialist knowledge about criminal offences within the England and Wales legal system there is a standard questionnaire that asks questions in everyday English.

A little bit of an aside the BCS in a masterpiece of covering just about every eventuality as one would expect from a piece of work that has been going almost 30 years and undergone numerous rigorous reviews of its methodology.

One of the first issues it covers is whether the person has moved in the relevant time, that is the last 12 months. This affects household victimisation, thus the slightly odd set of questions that are asked early on about crime types. These are listed in the table shown below.

The BCS dataset lists the numbers as options for variable `Crimtype' with the BCS data dictionary giving the names shown in the second column. I have examined the 25 sets of questions that produce answers regarding whether the household or individual has been subject to various events and if so how often. I have then used my specialist crime knowledge to explain the options. The way the questions are phrased allows burglaries to be identified. It is not possible though to differentiate between a theft person and a robbery as violence questions are at this stage dealt with separately to theft offences.

The table above should be read from left to right. The gaps signify where there is no comparable data. Even where there is comparable data there are caveats which I will cover in subsequent posts. What I want to point out is that the initial question (which seems to be to identify potential victims) with a little bit of recoding produces good results, ie consistent with published results. I do concede however that the data set I am dealing with only includes those cases that eventually were deemed to be offences.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Crime, soil, perception, labelling and mapping


I have been a little bit silent on my research for a few weeks for various reasons but I think it is the right time to try to explain what I am up to.................

There is a phrase up North that is "Call a spade a spade" or another one "Its what it says on the tin". The meaning of course is that the label given to something is 100% accurate and its all you need to know. The point I wish to make is that this is not the case with police recorded crime, which in the UK is the source data for crime maps. As I have discussed previously, for instance, the label `violent crime' is totally misleading. This I argue is at the heart of the public's mistrust in crime statistics.  The requirements of police recorded crime to meet legal definitions, Home Office counting rules and groupings into Home Office types result in  the label on the outside of the tin not representing what the public assumes to be on the inside of tin. It is not surprising therefore that the public's perception of various types of crime is different to what the police recorded crime statistics show. Then the there is the additional problem of unreported crime.

The question I have set myself is;
Is it possible to produce valid crime data that more closely matches people's perception of crime for mapping purposes?
This is a sentence I have used when trying to explain the the importance of this ambition;
We agree with others (see Jackson and Bradford 2010) that trust is aligned with effective community engagement based on a shared understanding of problems to be addressed, which in turn leads to increased confidence in the police and the criminal justice system.
The problem of producing maps with data that the public do not trust is that it is likely to result in the public thinking that the police do not understand the crime problem. If the public do not think the police understand the crime problem it is logical for them to think that they are not tackling it properly, this inevitably leads to the public losing confidence in the police.

So that is the theory, what data is out there for me to use?

Let me give you an analogy off the top of my head.

When I travel round the countryside I notice ploughed fields, in different areas the soil is different colours varying from a rich dark chocolate through reds, yellows, greys, creams to almost white. That is my personal unsophisticated almost subconscious classification of soils, I am not a farmer, I am a city person, the countryside to me is about aesthetics and ambiance. Now to a farmer soil classifications are to do with what it consists of, its water retention and what he can and cannot grow on it; the soils are graded accordingly. I go into a map shop and decide that I want a map of different types of soil colours in the UK. The shop keeper tells me that there is not such a map but he can sell me one of grades of soils which is just as good because everyone knows the better the soil the darker in colour. I then test this assumption out only to find that it is not always the case. I want a map of what I can see not what requires specialist knowledge to understand. No doubt when grading the soil one of the early scientific observations would have been the colour, so it would be quite easy to produce a map of UK soil colours if the original soil grading data could be accessed.

So the data I am going to use is not the data for specialist that has been accurately sorted and classified - police recorded crime but the aspect of the data that the public observe and label in everyday language. I am going to the early stages of the data collection process.

I will make this clearer in my next post.


Jackson, J. and Bradford, B. (2010). 'What is Trust and Confidence in the Police?', Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 4,3, 241-248

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Geography, Theresa May and Confidence

I have suddenly got more confidence in our Home Secretary Theresa May because I have discovered that she has a BA in Geography! A few other interesting facts that make me feel that I know her better if wikipedia is to be believed;
  • her father was a Church of England Minister presumably of a high church persuasion given her first name and the fact that her early education was at a Convent School,
  • her maiden name was Brasier, no doubt not pronounced as it reads, but not the easiest of names to live with,
  • her constituency is Maidenhead which means that she is likely to be close enough to the Cameron's Oxfordshire cabal (who apparantly run the country) to be a part of the incrowd at the weekends.
The latest recorded crime statistcs for England and Wales have been released accompanied by an announcement from Theresa May. The announcement is actually more interesting than the statistics. I can do no better than quoting from the BBC website
Home Secretary Theresa May said that officials were now launching a review of how crime figures are collected and published in an attempt to improve public confidence.

The review would look at ways of cutting costs while making the figures more coherent.

"Any reductions in crime are welcome, however levels are still too high and we know these statistics only offer a partial picture about the level of crime," Mrs May said.

"More needs to be done to bring crime down and we need to take bold action to restore public trust in crime statistics.

"That is why I have asked the National Statistician to lead a review and why we are moving the publication of crime statistics out of the Home Office to an independent body.
"Improving public trust and confidence in crime statistics is crucial if we bare to improve transparency and empower local communities to hold authorities to account."
The review should, and I think will, include crime maps for the public. I think I should, and I think I will try to get involved...............

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Joy of Statistics

I will be brief with this post because the link I think is only available in the UK.

I watched this program about statistics this evening on BBC 4 and even though I did not agree about everything it assumed about crime data I found it a very interesting and thought provoking. You can watch on on BBC iplayer following this link

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.

Monday, 3 January 2011

What is crime? - recordable offences?

I know I am feeling better, because I have an urge to write something that probably is no interest to anyone but myself. I went on a short trip to Thailand and Vietnam just before Christmas and managed to get home just before the snowfall landed on Heathrow. Unfortunately I managed to eat something that upset my stomach quite dramatically and after that I picked up a virus from IBM. Not a computer virus - a man flu virus via my son in law who works for IBM. That slowed me down a bit but unlike the previous bug it did not stop me eating so I did enjoy Christmas, thanks for asking, but I have not felt up to doing the work I was planning. Thus the absence of posts.

Now what has got my mental juices flowing again? Its the problem of defining "crime".

The first thing to say that I am approaching this from my knowledge of the English and Wales legal system. There are many other legal systems out there...................

In our legal system there is a fundamental principle that is even more basic than "innocent till proven guilty" which is often misquoted and misunderstood -you are guilty the second you commit an offence but for the purposes of the criminal justice system you are regarded as innocent until due legal process proves you guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The principle I am referring to is that a crime has to be defined (usually) by legislation. The criminal law assumes everything is legal that is not specifically enshrine in Common Law, defined as a criminal offence by Act of Parliament,  or arguably a body permitted by Act of Parliament to create offences - thus local bylaws. Criminal Law has its own courts, rules and sanctions.

Travelling in parallel with Criminal Law but very much on its own tracks is Civil Law. Civil Law has all sorts of weird and wonderful things but it does not have offences and crimes. It can be said that criminal law deals with absolutes that if put into questions should have a yes or no answers. Civil Law on the other hand deals with gradations whose answers are more fuzzy - maybes and depends are better answers. And of course the burden of proof in civil cases is on the balance of probabilities that reflects these differences.

But I digress. What I am trying to show is that with a legal system such as the English and Wales one the broadest legal definition of crime is an offence under criminal law. This of course includes parking offences, speeding fines, littering, drunkeness in a public place and other offences that we generally regard as being committed by normal members of the public, not criminals.

To have a criminal record you have to have been convicted of a recordable offence. Once you have been convicted of a recordable offence you are allocated a unique number (and letter) which in the days when the record was a paper file in the Criminal Records Office at new Scotland Yard was known as a CRO number. That's why when you get charged with a recordable offence you have your fingerprints and photograph taken. Now in a more modern world the record is no longer paper it is computerised on the Police National Computer (PNC) and you are allocated with a PNCID instead of a CRO. There are of course still people with both. And nowadays DNA is also taken as an identification. Details of what are recordable offences are here. Recordable offences are basically offences that have a term of imprisonment as a sanction plus a number of specified offences.

Now this is the confusing bit; the official crime statistics - police recorded crime - is a system that is quite separate from the recordable offences discussed above and it is based on notifiable offences. But that is for the next post.