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Police massaging crime records, says report

Published 08/12/2015

Home Secretary Theresa May abolished national targets for police in 2010
Home Secretary Theresa May abolished national targets for police in 2010

Police are facing fresh allegations of massaging crime records after it emerged that a culture of target-chasing and box-ticking is still rife within forces.

Central performance targets were abolished in 2010 but a damning report has revealed they still exist on a local level.

One officer spoke of a "downward pressure" not to record offences, while there were also claims that crime reports are being re-classified in order to make performance scores look better.

The review found evidence that some managers are reluctant to "let go" of targets, with one constable describing a culture focused on "not being at the bottom of the table".

Home Secretary Theresa May abolished national targets in 2010 but ordered a review earlier this year amid concerns they were still being pursued locally.

The inquiry, led by Irene Curtis, president of the Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales, found that most forces have moved away from the use of hard numeric targets.

However, it added: "Target setting, however, appears to be not uncommon at sub-force level by those in supervisory roles."

The inquiry probed all 43 police forces in England and Wales and conducted a survey of officers and staff which received more than 6,000 responses.

Force-wide targets have been imposed for burglary, vehicle crime, robbery and victim services, with many set out in police and crime commissioners' crime plans.

The report also looked into whether they were being set at a "sub-force" level, saying it was clear that " the removal of targets at the top has not necessarily resulted in significant changes in practice further down - counts of arrests, stop-search and intelligence submissions remain basic measures of frontline performance in some forces".

Although there was a commitment to "ethical" crime recording, comments from officers indicated that performance pressures still exist that can result in "less accurate" data being logged.

One constable said: " There exists downward pressure not to record crime where possible. A common example is when arresting a shoplifter detained at a store you find them to be in possession of other stolen items. Acquisitive crime managers do not want each offence recording as it increases their crime figures."

A sergeant said that when crime reduction targets are set, the easiest way to reach them is by "not recording that particular category of crime", adding: "It still happens."

Another claimed that "crime management units" are used " to trawl through crime reports and no crime or re-class crime classifications so that the borough/forces performance metrics looks better."

A culture for "chasing numbers" is also said to be creating extra bureaucracy and keeping officers from frontline work.

One sergeant said: " The incessant need to know how much /how many means officers are spending disproportionate amounts of time fabricating these 'results' - or disproportionate amounts of time interrogating databases to give an answer."

There were suggestions that targets remained "hard-wired" with some managers reluctant to let go of them, the report said.

One Pc said: " The culture in our force is all about not being at the bottom of the table, therefore this encourages the cherry picking of jobs to make yourself look good."

There is "widespread misunderstanding" over call handling and response time targets, with some remaining in place even though they were abolished five years ago.

In one incident a victim was "failed" when an officer was interrupted to "ask how long I would be" during a conversation about a domestic incident.

The constable said: "The victim heard this and immediately apologised for wasting our time and wouldn't share anything with us."

Mrs May said targets "distort operational reality" and "reduce police officer discretion".

She added the review "confirms the problems I have long noted with numerical targets: skewing priorities; causing dysfunctional behaviours; and reducing officer discretion."

Ms Curtis said: "It is clear the issue is wider than just the use of targets, and goes to the heart of how performance is both measured and managed within a force."

Questions about the integrity of crime figures were sparked in 2013 when a whistleblower alleged that massaging them to hit targets had become " an ingrained part of policing culture''.

Last year a report found a fifth of crimes could be going unrecorded.

National Police Chiefs' Council lead for crime recording Jeff Farrar welcomed the review.

He said: "The police service has been working hard to provide greater accuracy and transparency in the police recording of crime.

"Accurate crime recording helps to ensure that victims of crime receive the service they expect and deserve as well as informing the public of the scale, scope and risk of crime in their local communities.

"The target driven culture with associated league tables was an integral part of the performance measurement of the police service for many years. The departure from a purely target driven culture has been welcomed by police chiefs.

"There is evidence that police forces are more accurate than ever in their crime recording but it is important that we continue to look at ourselves to ensure that we're managing performance effectively."

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