Smoke And Mirrors? Meet Mirrors And Smoke

Dear reader I am typing this slowly as I know it’s a dry, boring subject that most of us don’t bother with, but unfortunately for you, I do. You may want to make yourself a cup of strong coffee before you read any further.

I have been looking at the strength of the various Police Forces post 2010.  The Home Office and HMIC like to quote these numbers as “officers per 100,000 head of population”.  I took a small liberty with this and I used “Constables per 100,000 head of population” as I don’t really care how many top-floor oiks there are, it’s the ground floor that interfaces with the public in the important ways.

Having aquired all the relevant data from official government statistics I laid it out and, unsurprisingly, EVERY single Force now has fewer Constables per 100,000 head of population, but the spread is not fair and even. Some have lost a far bigger percentage than others.

The luckiest Forces have only lost about 2% of their Constables (Surrey) , but others have lost as many as 30% (Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, West Midlands). The National Average being 20%.

I then thought that I would look and see if this had had a disproportionale or discernible effect on Crime Levels.

This was where I noticed the first anomaly.  The government quotes Police Officer numbers as “Officers per 100,000 head of population” as I mentioned above.

I soon realised that Police Force Crime Rates are quoted a “Crimes per 10,000 head of population”.  Now I know that we’re all capable of putting an extra zero on the end and making them comparable, but it could be deemed a bit more devious than that.

Measure Police Officers per 100,000 head of population gives you a bigger number, psychologically more acceptable. Dare I say “a good thing”. Makes it sound like more officers than if expressed the other way.

Measure Crimes as per 10,000 head of population gives you a smaller number, more acceptable and another “good thing”.  People might even think that crime is down.

When the post 2010, reduced, Police Force numbers are compared to the Crime Rates, MOST Forces have managed to make noticeable reductions in these crime rates.  The reductions go from 2.3% (Cleveland and Northamptonshire), to 29.7% (Cumbria) with the National Average being 11.6%.  However some have suffered increased Crime Rates between 3.4% (Merseyside) and 22.2% (Staffordshire).

The above results were judged against Office of National Statistics / Crime Survey of England & Wales data, the government’s preferred ‘official’ datase, and definitely caused me to wonder why two datasets that are obviously intertwined are expressed differently by a factor of 10.  If you wanted your audience to understand would you not use the same units for both datasets, thus enabling an obvious and instant comparison?

I did wonder what the same picture would look like, based on ‘out of favour’ Police Recorded Crime statistics.

Using the ONS/CSEW Statistics only 7 Forces did not show a reduction in the Crime Rate post 2010. Using Police Recorded Crime 24 of them (more than half) failed to show a reduction in the Crime Rate.

Those demonstrating a reduction varied between 2.7% (Nottinghamshire) and 22% (Lincolnshire).  The National Average is an INCREASE of 2.7% per 100,000 head of population. A quite different picture I’m sure you will agree,

My dislike of the ONS/CSEW methodology and resultant statistics is well know to a lot of you, and I know there are many academics out there who have tried to explain it to me and persuade me, but I’m a stubborn old git and I prefer things that can be counted rather than estimated. Police Recorded Crime has been under the spotlight for a few yerars now, and I refuse to believe that they are not somewhere acceptably close to accurate, although CSEW figures and Recorded Crime do sometimes include different categories for some bizarre reason that maybe the Home Office could explain to us.

I have deliberately excluded Fraud, Cyber Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour from both sets of figures.

The ONS/CSEW figures are consistently higher than Recorded Crime figures but their behavious is quite different.  They show a ‘decrease’ in crime which I’m sure many of you do not recognise.  They also paint a picture of most Forces winning the fight against crime and bringing it down.

Police Recorded Crime figures are significantly lower than the ONS/CSEW stats so favoured by government. However, they show that MOST Forces are failing to reduce the Crime Rate.

This is most definitely NOT a criticism of the Police Forces, they have suffered real cuts as referred to above.  The government, in the form of the Home Office, is spinning the figures to make Police Numbers appear better, crime rates appear lower and totally disguises how effective the Forces are being at combatting Crime Rates.

It is time for the government to stop crying “Crime is Down. Police Reform is Working” and deal with the reality of the situation.

Just for the sake of reassurance every single number I have used has been extracted from an official government dataset.  No guessing and estimating here ONS.

Finally, the Force that lost the biggest percentage of its Constables has experienced an INCREASE in crime of 5.2% against the Crime Survery figures and 16.5% against Police Recorded Crime.

Smoke and Mirrors have got nothing on our government.

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