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What do the latest crime stats tell us about the changing nature of crime?



Harvey Redgrave, Chief Executive Officer

Friday 17 July 2020

In a sense, the latest statistics are like looking in the rear view mirror. They do not illustrate the dramatic impact of the lockdown on levels of crime, since the crime survey was paused before the restrictions kicked in, though police recorded data provides an initial indication of how social distancing had already begun to slow down demand. Here are four things of note from the latest statistics.

1. While it is too soon to understand the full impact of the lockdown on crime levels, we can already see that the onset of social restrictions during the early phase of the pandemic had begun to dampen police demand

Between February and March this year, as restrictions began to be imposed, police recorded crime fell by 5 per cent - the lowest monthly level seen over the past year. This was also an 11 per cent reduction in police recorded crime compared with March 2019. (By contrast, January and February 2020 both saw a rise in police recorded crime compared with 2019, with increases of 4 per cent and 6 per cent respectively). The biggest falls were in theft (15 per cent), sexual offences (14 per cent) and robbery (14 per cent).

Police recorded crime, England and Wales: Jan to March 2019 and Jan to March 2020

Provisional data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council does suggest that recorded crime up to July is substantially down from the same period last year. Publication of the next set quarter of crime statistics in October should provide more concrete evidence one way or the other.

2. The latest statistics are a stark reminder that going into this crisis, serious violence was a significant - and growing - element of police demand

Prior to the pandemic, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, had hailed a ‘turning of the tide’ in serious violence, based primarily on falls in knife crime with injury within London. Statistics from the Metropolitan Police show that knife crime with injury has continued to fall in the capital, down 22 per cent on the same point last year. However, the Commissioner will have been concerned by the 23 per cent rise in the number of homicides within London, and the 7 per cent increase nationally of the number of offences involving knives or sharp instruments overall.

Crest has set out previously the extent to which violence contributes to overall police demand (more than 40 per cent). Given indications of an initial fall in recorded violence during lockdown, an important question will be whether the police were able to make the most of falling demand, for example, by being more proactive in disrupting drug markets and/ or pursuing known offenders.

3. The police entered this crisis with some big challenges around trust, confidence and community engagement. These are likely to be have been exacerbated by lockdown

Police relations with the public have come under intense scrutiny in recent months, initially in response to concerns about heavy-handed enforcement of the lockdown and, more significantly, now as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement. Whilst the disproportionate application of tools such as stop and search upon BAME individuals is widely acknowledged, the latest statistics reveal the scale of the challenge for policing in building trust amongst the Black Caribbean community in particular. For example, whilst 55 per cent of adults overall say that the police are doing a good job, this falls to just 39 per cent for Black Caribbean adults.

The pandemic’s role in highlighting and aggravating pre-existing challenges is also true of police legitimacy more generally. For example, the latest statistics show that in the year ending March 2020, the proportion of people who think the police are doing poorly or very poorly has risen by four percentage points, whilst the proportion believing that the police and local council are gripping anti-social behaviour has fallen since 2016 from 62 per cent to 52 per cent). This may be affected by perceptions of reduced neighbourhood policing presence, with 49 per cent of the public reporting almost ‘never’ seeing the police (up from 27 per cent a decade ago).

4. Public confidence is also likely to be affected by the long-term decline in offences being brought to justice, with just 1.4 per cent of rapes leading to a charge/ summons

Part of the decline in public confidence in policing may stem from a lack of belief in the police’s ability to bring offenders to justice. Despite a change in recording practices in 2015, the proportion of offences leading to some kind of formal sanction (e.g. charge/ caution/ warning) has decreased steadily over recent years. Statistics released by the Home Office show a continuation of this decrease, with the proportion of offences leading to charge/ summons at a record low of 7 per cent, falling considerably for complex offences such as sexual offences (3.4 per cent) and rape (1.4 per cent).

There has been no corresponding rise in the proportion of offences receiving a different kind of formal sanction. However, an increasing proportion of offences are now failing due to non-cooperation from victims which has nearly tripled since 2015, as the graph below demonstrates.

The decline in police effectiveness may have been driven by the increasing complexity of offences, and reduced police capacity. Nonetheless, such a sharp reduction in the proportion of offenders being brought to justice must be a cause of concern for policing and government.

Looking further ahead

The next set of figures, published in October, will show us by how much crime fell during the lockdown. By that point, of course, crime is expected to have bounced back - potentially in a V-shaped recovery as my colleague James Stott has already explained. Typically rises and falls in crime are long telegraphed - they can be seen approaching, gradually. This may feel very different, with record falls in crime being announced even as the public feels and sees crime rising sharply around it. It will make for an unprecedented debate. Is there an acceptable level for crime to return to? How much of the ground the police took during lockdown should they reasonably be expected to hold? And perhaps most significantly, what will be the impact on crime of huge job losses, already being felt across the country?


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