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Lockdown crime and future trends: reasons to be less cheerful?



Danny Shaw, Head of Strategy and Insight

Thursday 13 May 2021

The latest crime figures for England and Wales, covering the calendar year 2020, have been published by the Office for National Statistics. At the same time, the Home Office has released new data on ‘outcomes’ - showing how many offences have led to people being charged or cautioned. Crest Advisory and data science specialists Justice Episteme, in a project known as Poliscope, have also issued the first national forecasts of crime for the next two years, based on figures from the website. Our Head of Strategy and Insight, Danny Shaw, highlights the key points from the three sets of data

Crime Figures

Last year was a year unlike any other. For most of it, the world was in the grip of the pandemic and we all faced unprecedented restrictions on our way of life. Shops, businesses, pubs and clubs closed; for months, nightlife ground to a halt and we spent most of the time at home.

It’s little surprise then that crime patterns were hugely affected. There were fewer businesses open to steal from and less people on the streets to mug, while the reduction in social mixing, at parties, clubs and bars, reduced opportunities for potential sex offenders.

  • Police recorded 5.6 million crimes in 2020, down 8% on 2019

  • Thefts, including burglary, car crime and shoplifting, fell 26%

  • Robbery fell 25%

  • Sexual offences fell 7%

  • Knife crime fell 9%

There were also fewer homicides (murder, manslaugter and infanticide): 625 people were killed compared to 668 in 2019, a figure which excludes the 39 migrant deaths in a lorry at Grays in Essex.

The steepest falls in recorded crime were during April to June, when the first lockdown took place, and from October to December, when restrictions were tightened again.

However, there were increases in some types of crime recorded by police compared with the previous year.

  • Drugs offences up 15%

  • Domestic abuse up 7%

  • Violence against the person up 2%

The rise in drugs offences was principally due to greater police activity in tackling dealers and organised crime gangs (who were also easier to spot with fewer people out on the streets); the increase in reports of domestic abuse may well be linked to lockdown, when people in abusive relationships were forced to spend long periods together.

Organised criminals and fraudsters appeared to have adapted their methods during the pandemic, exploiting the fact that many of us spent longer online. UK Finance, a banking and finance industry umbrella organisation, recorded a 68% rise in ‘remote banking’ fraud - where criminals access an account via the internet, mobile or telephone to make an unauthorised transfer and Action Fraud reported a 38% increase in scams involving online shopping and auctions. Computer misuse offences, involving hacking and malware, also went up significantly.

Charging Rates

For the Home Office, the bleakest news is that the number of crimes which are ‘detected’, meaning someone is charged or cautioned, remains at historically low levels.

The department’s own figures show that in 2020:

  • 7.5% of crimes led to a suspect being charged or ordered to appear in court

  • 4.7% led to an out-of-court sanction or diversionary activity

  • 38.5% no suspect was identified

  • 26.4% the victim did not support action

  • 12.8% other evidential problems

In a small number of other cases, a prosecution was not considered to be in the public interest or action was taken by another agency.

Although the charge rate, 7.5%, increased slightly compared with last year, it has been on near continuous decline since the data was first compiled this way in 2014/15. That year, 15.5% of cases resulted in a charge or a summons to appear at court and 9.2% led to an out-of-court sanction. Increasing the proportion of crimes which are detected is one of the greatest challenges facing police, prosecutors - and the Home Office.

Poliscope Forecasts

The next few years are likely to present police and criminal justice agencies with further difficult decisions about how to allocate resources and where to focus investigative effort.

The results from Poliscope - a forecasting project by Crest and Justice Episteme involving pioneering methods of data analysis using up-to-date crime figures from police forces - suggest there’ll be a large rise in sexual offences and violence in 2022 and 2023, compared with pre-pandemic levels, in 2019.

Drugs offences and public order crimes, which include harassment, violent disorder, affray and being drunk and disorderly, are projected to go up as well.

However, our forecasts suggest the overall number of crimes may dip slightly and that there will be a significant drop in robberies over the next two years, taking numbers roughly back to levels seen in 2014 - while burglary, which has been on the decline since the mid-1990s, is forecast to fall even further:

The projections were calculated by analysing crime figures uploaded by 42 police forces in England and Wales on the website Statistics from City of London Police and British Transport Police were not included.

Our Poliscope specialists say although the police data website is not 100% accurate it is more up-to-date than the crime figures published by the Office for National Statistics and provides a reliable and robust indicator of the national picture.

The experts then applied a collection of individual forecasting methods to the data - an approach known as ‘hybrid’ or ‘ensemble’ - to arrive at a best estimate for the future.

It’s believed to be the first time that national crime forecasts, including those for individual categories of offence, have been compiled from the police data website, which is updated every month - though Crest and Justice Episteme have piloted the techniques over the past two years using crime figures from two forces, Bedfordshire and Nottinghamshire. We intend to update the forecasts every three months, as new data become available, and will track their accuracy over time.

The implications of the forecasts are stark; the projected rise in violent and sexual offending, which are not separated in the police data website figures, is likely to place an additional burden on forces because of the complex, resource-intensive and demanding nature of such investigations.

It will also fuel concerns about the strain on the criminal justice system which is already struggling to cope with a huge backlog of court cases. Last year, Crest modelling showed that without urgent action the Crown Court backlog would quadruple by 2024 with a ten-fold rise in magistrates’ court backlog.

It emphasises that last year’s crime figures, showing a decline in many categories of offending, really was a one-off.


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