A good day for civilisation

Overall crime is down in the UK, including violent crime. And the gap between actual violent crime and recorded violent crime has diminished, as police and government efforts at getting people to report attacks that happen to them continue to pay off.

However, journalists are appalling. Given that nearly all the tabloid reports covering the latest crime figures have been outright lies, claiming – even though anyone with even the more perfunctory knowledge of the subject knows it to be false on the basis of both sets of figures released today – that violent crime has *risen*, it’s no fucking wonder that the public’s fear of violent crime is on the up.

This is sad. We’ve reached the stage where people are safe from criminals (unless you’re a male aged 16-30 who likes to go out at the weekend and get drunk, your chances of assault are pretty fucking minimal. Hell, I *am*, and I’ve not been assaulted in years), but now live in fear of imaginary ones. I’m not even sure what society can do about this, although the public execution of Paul Dacre. wouldn’t do any harm. More pretend coppers would be a start, I guess: they provide an apparent police presence to reassure silly people; they do about as much crime-stopping as bobbies on the beat (ie none); and they cost much less than a real policeman.

In vaguely related news, the criminalising-the-innocent imposition of curfew orders has been struck down by the courts. Good. Now cue a bunch of frightened reactionary idiots blithering on about out-of-touch judges…

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12 thoughts on “A good day for civilisation

  1. Some explanation is needed of the gross discrepancy between the BCS figures which show violent crime down by 11% and the number of reported violent crimes which has increased by 7% in the same period. My feeling, backed by absolutely no research whatsoever, is that violent crime is not particularly common but that where it does happen it is often drink-fuelled. But what is the truth?

    Since we are talking about a one year period, changes in reporting methods don’t account for anything. What people are being interviewed for the BCS data? How are they selected? Is it meaningful to base national crime statistics on the subjective opinion of a small group of individuals, or is it more meaningful to consider the number of crimes actually reported to the police? Why is there such a difference in the figures for violent crime? Are the BCS respondents all teetotal middle-aged churchgoers?

    I’m not saying this is a violent nation – in my experience, it is not – but I am not confident that the statistics bandied about actually mean anything.

  2. Euan –

    If they’ve got the budget to do a survey of 40,000 households, and they *haven’t* managed to make it fully demographically representative, they should be shot (opinion polls use around 2000 individuals, and achieve levels of accuracy well within a +/-7% range). This should be easily enough for a statistically significant representation of overall crime rates.

    There are two main reasons for the rise in violent crime in the recorded stats: the police are now bothering to press charges in low-level fights with no serious injuries; and they’ve massively ramped up police numbers in provincial town centres at weekends so they can arrest fighting drunks (the reported rise in sexual offences, meanwhile, is because flashing is now classed as a sexual offence rather than a vagrancy offence). Neither of these changes would cause a rise in the BCS crime figure.

    (I suspect that the focus on preventing drunk fights and arresting those who drunkenly fight is also a driver in the fall on violent crime that people have experienced according to the BCS…)

  3. The BCS is carried out by Mori, using their standard sample selection methods. I think that there are reporting method issues; the standards changed during 2003 so 2004 would have a full-year effect.

    I disagree with John about pretend coppers, btw; Camden was, as with so many other things, an innovator in this one and they don’t actually do a bad job. Lots of them are nightclub bouncers in the evening so they know where the bad lads are.

    In general I would advise people that living your life not in fear is the best way forward. Only the other night the missus mentioned how polite our local Somali crack gang are, and how they always move off the pavement and say good morning when she needs to get the baby’s pram past.

  4. Do you happen to know if the police record separately (a) crimes reported to them and (b) crimes which result in charges being raised? If not then this should be made clear. Ideally, we could see both, and there would need to be explanations of any big variances.

    I’m suspicious of this survey approach to establishing empirical data. It plays into the hands of those who would say that we are going to Hell in a handbasket and the only solution is to arm the populace, precisely because it is way too easy to cast doubt on its accuracy. It’s also susceptible to political manipulation, although I’m not suggesting this is necessarily happening. I don’t think it’s meaningful to call it anything more than a general impression of the level of crime, not the actual level of crime. It may be accurate, it may not.

    Whilst popular opinion about crime levels is important to know, it is also important to know the truth about the actual numbers of crimes happening.

    I don’t see how anyone can really be confident where there is an 18% point difference between two figures ostensibly reporting the same thing.

  5. They’re not ostensibly reporting the same thing. And the survey data is much less easy to manipulate than the reporting data.

  6. But they aren’t "reporting the same thing", ostensibly or otherwise. The number of crimes reported to the Police is not the same as the total number of crimes that have occured, full stop.

  7. Well, last night we has that guy from Westminster council on Newsnight banging on about how young people aren’t scared of police, how they know their legal rights (‘cos that is such a bad thing) and how the only way to counter this problem (after lamenting that the police in this country can’t whack people with trunchoens – for a guy who films city centres at night he must have a peculiar blindspot) is to draw up laws that allow the police to use a whole load of arbitrary powers.

  8. "Do you happen to know if the police record separately (a) crimes reported to them and (b) crimes which result in charges being raised?"

    Yes. They must. They issue crimes numbers for a). If charges are raised, these go to the CPS, don’t they? So both are recorded. But crime numbers mean little. They’re more like the numbered tickets you get for queuing in some supermarkets. If you report a spurious crime, for instance, you could still get a number.

    Euan, uncertainly and greyness is the best we can do. See Theodore Dalrymple in the Times today.

  9. A great deal of the violence that gets to court is domestic, as there is a serious drive on to prosecute these cases (although conviction rates remain low). A generation ago the police would not get involved so long as the abuser stopped short of GBH, so the figures are skewed. Also, police now attend every domestic incident where violence is alleged, and I know of one woman who called police over fifty times in a year – that’s 50 crimes for the stats.

  10. My opinion on this is that actual violence is down, but low-grade intimidation, abuse and street hostility which don’t register as crimes have increased, hence the rise in fear of crime. The Rowntree survey on ASB has some interesting commentry on this.

  11. Not all the incidents reported to the police are recorded as crimes; not all the incidents recorded by the police as crimes are referred to the CPS; and not all the crimes referred to the CPS are proceeded with. Under Labour there’s been strong political pressure to reduce the rate of ‘attrition’ at the first and second stages; the recording guidelines were explicitly changed a few years ago, from "incident is a crime if witness says so and there’s some evidence" to "…if witness says so and there’s no evidence against". While that made police figures leap up – making them effectively useless for comparisons over time – a more gradual trend upwards can reasonably be seen as reflecting continued informal pressure along the same lines. Add to that the effects of what happens when you introduce lots of police to an area with lots of pissed-up teenagers, and YES, OF COURSE POLICE VIOLENT CRIME FIGURES ARE UP – WHAT ELSE WERE YOU EXPECTING?

    Sorry. All better now.

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