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Saturday, 23 November 2013

The problem with crime statistics is people think they understand them

I have been a police officer for 30 years; I have run a crime desk at one of the busiest boroughs in the country; and I have studied England and Wales crime statistics intensively for over four years in order to gain a PhD from one of the top Universities in the world. And I am quite happy to concede that there may be some hidden subtleties about Official Crime Statistics that I am not aware. But I am convinced that there are many politicians and many members of the public who think that they fully understand them.

These blissfully ignorant people have had a rude shock this last when people with a little more understanding than them have revealed that crime statistics need to be interpreted with extreme care. The police manipulate them (in my view against their best interests, showing they too do not fully understand them, as the way to justify more police is more crime), the Home Office and the politicians in power connive in this manipulation and count and categorise crime to deliberately mislead the public (because they want less police and undeserved credit); and the public too are complicit by falsely reporting crimes for insurance and other purposes and not reporting crimes that they should.

I understand Simon Jenkins point of view in his Guardian article Police crime figures are meaningless. Ban them. He extols the virtues of the British Crime Survey statistics, the other half of the official crime statistics which also need to be interpreted with extreme care.

The fact is police crime figures are not meaningless. Lying buried within them there are many important facts, but not the ones police, politicians, journalists or the public are going to understand anytime soon.

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