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Q&A: The latest crime figures

Recorded offences are up, but experiences of crime have dropped.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the latest crime data for England and Wales. Here the Press Association answers the key questions about the figures.

What do they show?
The headline estimate according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) is 10.6 million incidents in the year to September 2017. The separate count of offences recorded by police is 5.3 million.

How do these compare to the previous year?
The CSEW is down by 10% on the previous 12 months, while the police-recorded tally is up by 14%.

What is the difference between the two sources?
The CSEW is a face-to-face survey of 35,000 households in which people are asked about their experiences of crime in the previous 12 months, while police recorded figures are a simple count of offences reported to and logged by forces.

Why are there two sources?
An estimated 60% of offences are never reported to authorities – so since 1981 a large-scale survey has been carried out to gauge people’s experience of crime.

What are the pros and cons of the survey estimates?
Statisticians say the survey is good at measuring long-term trends and higher volume offences, but less well suited to measuring less frequent crimes, particularly in the short-term.

What about the police recorded count?
It includes some crimes such as homicide which cannot be covered in a survey, can be a better source for identifying emerging trends and provide a picture of police workloads. But the count can be influenced by changes in recording, policing tactics and willingness of victims to come forward.

So which carries more weight?
The ONS acknowledges both sources have strengths and weaknesses but the crime survey is its preferred measure. It says that for many types of offence police data cannot provide a reliable measure of levels or trends.

So is crime going up or not?
The ONS’s overall judgment is that crime levels continued to fall, consistent with long-term trends, but not all types of offending are down. In relation to some categories, including gun and knife crime, rises in recorded offences are thought to reflect some actual increases.

What does the Government say?
Ministers say that “traditional” crime is down by nearly 40% since 2010, but they acknowledge some of the increase in police-recorded violence is genuine.

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