Police record 103,000 offences last year but MLA says many sex attacks likely to go unreported
Policing Board members have called a surge in sexual and violent offences in Northern Ireland after the end of lockdown “extremely disturbing”.
Between January 1 and December 31, 2021 there were 102,935 recorded crimes — 6,329 (6.6%) more than in the previous 12 months.
The PSNI report shows that Covid-19 lockdown measures first introduced in March 2020 saw lower crime levels until February 2021.
In each of the months since then, crime figures were higher than the same month the previous year, with the biggest increases seen in April (32%) and June (19%).
Significant increases were reported in the categories of sexual and violent offences.
This included reports of rape increasing by 18.4% (from 1,002 to 1,186) and other sexual offences up by 15.3% (from 2,323 to 2,679).
Violence with injury offences also rose by 13.3%, from 11,934 to 13,525.
For death or serious injury caused by unlawful driving, there was a 58.4% increase (from 89 to 141).
Further increases were recorded with drug offences, including trafficking of drugs up by 9.6% (from 980 to 1,074) and possession of drugs up 8.2% (from 6,950 to 7,519).
By contrast, lower crime figures were recorded in the robbery and theft categories.
Robbery offences were down by 12.9% (from 536 to 467) while there were 1,790 fewer theft offences (from 22,435 to 20,645).
A total of eight policing districts in Northern Ireland saw crime rates rise last year.
This includes crime reported across Belfast City up by 8.7% and the highest increase seen in Ards & North Down at 15% while Newry, Mourne & Down was the lowest at -3.2%.
Mr Nesbitt said that the figures showed it was not the time to slash the policing budget.
“Any increase in criminal offences is a matter for concern but these statistics reflect an extremely disturbing trend regarding rape and sexual offences,” he said.
"The answer is not to leave the PSNI with a projected £226m hole in their budget for the next three years as the draft Budget 2022-2025 does. I shall continue to lobby for the 7,500 Officer headcount promised in the New Decade New Approach document, together with the technological equipment that will help keep people, especially women and girls safe.”
Ms Kelly added that the crime figures during 2020 were likely to be much higher in reality.
“I’m quite sure that the figures in relation to sex and rape are still vastly under reported,” she said.
“It’s only now that people are beginning to emerge from the pandemic. As an example, I know that there are far more children going into care or are deemed to be children at risk in my trust area.
“With professionals unable to do a lot of home visits and things like that I’m sure there’s still quite a gap in terms of what’s going on at home.”
Ms Kelly said the issue of people drinking more at home during lockdown restrictions will also have contributed to crime figures, as well as causing health problems.
“The picture will only become clear as the Covid restrictions dissipate and people will be seen and heard.
“That’s whether it’s with their GP, social worker or the police. While the crime stats this year are on the increase, they don’t tell the whole story.”
Ms Kelly said she was aware that the PSNI and the National Crime Agency were also becoming increasingly concerned about the growing threat of online crime during the pandemic.
“I’ve heard that this has trebled in terms of fraud and scams, as well the use of the dark web for people perpetrating child abuse,” said Ms Kelly.
Concluding, she also voiced concerns about Stormont’s draft budget for 2022-25, which forecasts a 10% increase for health spending but a 2% reduction for other departments. “The failure of the Executive, in terms of the 2% cut across all departments by the Finance Minister doesn’t show much strategic thinking.”