Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Good news today on crime figures. After weeks of headlines about dodgy figures, we learn that crime fell 10% last year. That’s a real achievement, for the police mostly but also for the government.

Ah, I hear you say. Here’s another politician claiming credit for good figures that he was rubbishing last week. Well, not exactly. The 10% fall is in the Crime Survey of England and Wales. The police don’t control these figures. Nor do politicians. They are what people report as their experience of crime. So, they do indicate a genuine fall.

Not only that. There’s also good news in the police recorded crime. The good news is that it fell less than the survey figure (3.7% down, rather than 10%). That suggests a closing of the gap between the crime people experience and the crime the police record. And, whatever the precise relationship, that the trend of both is downward.

It’s undoubtedly positive, so far as it goes. The police can claim the credit for lower crime. And the government can claim credit for removing targets, allowing the police to focus on crime itself rather than figures – which is reflected in the narrower gap.

But. This is all very unsophisticated. Different types of crime show different trends – for example rises in sexual crimes, shoplifting and theft. We still don’t know what we don’t know. A huge proportion of crime goes unreported, possibly even unnoticed.

What is happening online? Crimes committed online are rarely reported because no one believes the police will do anything. I spoke to a small family shop today who main business is online – on Amazon, eBay and his own site. He has to dispatch goods immediately to keep customers satisfied, but when a card is refused he loses the cash. Would he report £100 of stock stolen from his shop? Yes. Would he report £100 card payment that doesn’t go through? No. So the police never know. The crime is not recorded and the criminal is not caught.

Until that cycle is broken crime will continue to spread. And when it is, criminals will have moved on to other things. Crime may have fallen but it never goes away. It changes and so must we. The battle never ends.

 

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