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Painting (the big picture) by numbers

Callyane Desroches, Senior Analyst

Thursday 20 October 2016

The crime stats are out again and we’ve gleaned a few things for you.

1. The Crime Survey of England and Wales emphasises that although overall crime has remained broadly stable since June 2015 (with 6.4 million incidents), police recorded crime has continued to rise (7%). The overall rise has been at a slower rate than previous years, but there is considerable regional variation.

2. We know that if you include fraud and cybercrime in the crime count it nearly doubles the amount of crime in England and Wales, adding 5.6 million offences (3.6 million fraud and 2 million computer misuse) over the year.

3. We know that violence against the person is rising, with the Home Office confirming spikes of hate crime, and police forces warning of the return of higher volumes of knife crime (up 7%) and firearms offences (up 9%). Changes in recording practice have had a significant impact on numbers, but genuine (small) increases in violence are there.

4. We also know that sexual crimes are slowly increasing – facts long attributed to better recording practices. Recorded incidents are up 14% to 108,762 – 26% of which were non-recent offences, a detail which, some believe, positively demonstrates a willingness to come forward.

And so what…?


Is criminal justice system (CJS) statistical analysis an interminable cycle of number crunching as data is released – with changes and edits to the source almost every quarter? How do we keep track of changes over time? More importantly, even, how can we account for all the moving parts of the incredibly complex ecosystem that is the CJS? How do we make sense of the bigger picture?

At Crest, we decided some time ago to test these limits. We imagined a world where data from different parts of the CJS (like the latest Home Office and ONS crime stats) would feed into a single place. We longed for a platform where you could go back in time and compare trends in the short and long term. We imagined that this data could be formatted into coherent indicators so that points can be moved around at the viewer’s convenience. We wanted to use machine-based learning such as data-mining techniques to help the numbers tell us a story about what was going on.

Crest launches a national CJS data dashboard


Because no such platform existed, Crest Analytics created the ‘Dashboard for the Criminal Justice System’, a cloud-based analytics tool. Now it’s live and already making a big difference.

The dashboard incorporates data from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and courts in a single place. It allows users to focus on specific performance aspects and to examine them over time (as far back as your data goes). It can produce reports or live graphics centred on any aspect of the system which you want to focus on. Once you have created a storyboard, the tool does the work by comparing old data to new, by showing you trends and by pointing you to hidden exceptions.

In fact, the dashboard is there to take away the messiness of data processing so that analysts can spend their time looking and thinking about what the data is saying.

Criminal justice devolution means more and more decisions are being taken at a local level. And that’s where we believe our tool has the greatest potential to help cut crime and improve outcomes. For Police and Crime Commissioners or elected mayors with policing powers, ambitious to hold agencies to account, to drive efficiencies and demonstrate to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice they’re ready for more responsibilities, this dashboard could be transformative.

For example, you can survey your performance across your local area in a single place, as soon as your data is produced. You can set targets and track your progress against them. You can take evidence-based strategic decisions. You can tease out the source of an issue, such as court delays or inefficiencies, by looking into the nuts and bolts of the victim or offender journey in your area.

Of course, data still needs to be inputted and formatted. At Crest, we have a dedicated team of analysts who have perfected the process of cleaning and inputting data into the tool, making it quick and easy for your staff. We are here to help you create your very own bespoke dashboard. To give you an idea of what it can look like, you can try our live national dashboard, or if you would like a flavour of our regional dashboards, you can watch our video explainer. Our live National Dashboard is updated regularly, as soon as the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service publish their latest data.

Of course, police recorded and unreported crime is as important as ever to understanding how to best reduce crime and keep communities safe. But with tools like our dashboard, criminal justice leaders can increasingly see the whole picture, make better informed decisions, pull the levers more swiftly and explain to communities what’s going on.

I’m always reminded that reality is messy and that chaos needs to be ordered through signs, as organic as the process might be!

"Man passes there through forests of symbols Which look at him with understanding eyes." Flowers of Evil – Baudelaire (translation Aggeler)


The UK's only consultancy dedicated to crime and justice.

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