Crime under-recording 'will rise'
Police under-recording of crimes will become more widespread as the Government has focused too heavily on reducing crime levels at the expense of other targets, a former chief inspector has said.
Rodger Patrick, former West Midlands chief inspector, said police "gaming" of crime statistics is so common that it must be "organisational in nature".
He said it is likely to become more prevalent as the coalition dismantled a "plethora" of centrally set targets which were not solely focused on crime levels.
In a report for think-tank Civitas, Dr Patrick said the data now serves little purpose in measuring crime levels and called for a judge-led inquiry to uncover why the "perverse" behaviour was not challenged sooner.
His warning follows a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) which found "indefensible" under-recording of crime in England and Wales's 43 police forces, with around 800,000 crimes not being recorded properly each year.
Dr Patrick said the report raised questions about the governance of the police.
He said: "The widespread occurrence and repeated nature of incidents involving the same phenomenon suggests that this form of police deviance is organisational in nature.
"This in turn raises questions about the standard of police leadership and those entrusted with the governance, oversight and scrutiny of the service."
He went on to say police data is "manipulated to such an extent that it serves little purpose in measuring crime levels of the performance of the police service".
"Whilst under-recording crime is the most common form of police 'gaming' behaviour it is not the only one," he said.
"However, it is likely to become the most prevalent, as the coalition Government elected in 2010 dismantled the plethora of centrally set targets and placed the focus on reducing crime.
"The evidence presented in this book would support the call for an independent judge-led inquiry to establish why the perverse behaviour underpinning the unreliable crime statistics was not challenged earlier."
Dr Patrick also said the HMIC audit failed to take into account two police "tactics" in under-recording crime.
He said the majority of under-recording is likely to be a result of police forces rebuffing victims by informing them they must attend a police station with documentation and proof that they have suffered a crime.
Dr Patrick said control room staff were also wrongly-categorising initial reports of crime as suspicious incidents or domestic disputes.
He criticised HMIC for failing to question whether there was managerial orchestration of statistical manipulation.
Dr Patrick said: "The easiest way for forces engaged in gaming in the form of cuffing to avoid detection is to categorise reported crimes as non-crime incidents. These could be classified as suspicious incidents or domestic disputes.
"The underlying assumption being made by HMIC appears to be that the behaviour being investigated is not organisational in nature and/or managerially orchestrated. Establishing if this was the case should have been an object of the exercise."
A Home Office spokesman said: "The independent Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that overall crime is down by more than 20% under this government.
"It is never acceptable for the police to mis-record crime. Failing to do so not only lets down victims, but the wider public who expect to be able to trust the integrity of police recorded crime.
"That is why the Home Secretary last year commissioned HMIC to investigate crime data integrity in all 43 forces and replaced 'one size fits all' performance targets with one aim: to cut crime.
"We are beginning to see the benefits of HMIC's scrutiny. There have been positive signs that recording is improving and that more victims of crimes, such as sexual offences, are coming forward. HMIC's new Peel inspection programme is keeping the pressure on police forces to make progress."