Falling crime rate not down to the police

Friday, 24 January 2014

Today's Guardian carries an editorial examing the reasons for the ongoing fall in the official crime rate.

The previous Labour government and the coalition have passed roughly one crime-related piece of legislation a year, the editorial notes. Despite this legislative hyperactivity, 'even a glance at the trend behind the headlines suggests crime and policing policy has less influence on the figures than politicians want to believe'.

So what is behind it? There are a range of different crime types so it's important to look at them individually, the editorial argues, rather than just focus on the overall figure:

'The detail contains some of the answers: crimes such as vandalism, burglary and car theft, which once made up a large part of total crime, have fallen steeply – due to better-designed and lit public areas and more sophisticated security. Harder to grapple with is the rise within the overall figures of some types of crime. Shoplifting – which might be exacerbated by austerity – is up slightly overall, but has risen significantly in regions such as the West Midlands and Merseyside. Cause, or mere correlation? Reported domestic violence, which appears more prevalent when times are hard, is rising. But – like historic sex abuse – it is also a crime to which police forces are more sensitive than they were.'

The Centre has been tracking and attempting to explain crime trends over a number of years. The online version of the Editorial includes a link to our UK Justice Policy Review website, which contains a host of datasets and analysis.

Check out also our submission to the House of Commons Justice Committee Inquiry into crime reduction policies. In it we point out the lack of evidence of an impact of criminal justice policies on the underlying crime rate:

'[E]vidence for the effect of criminal justice interventions on official crime rates is poor. A review of international evidence explaining falls in official crime rates by Graham Farrell and colleagues was published in 2010. They found no evidence that rates of imprisonment, police numbers or policing strategies could explain falls in crime, apart from some partial effects in the United States. To achieve this, the United States has relied on policies of hyperincarceration and aggressive policing strategies disproportionately targeting black people and the most economically disadvantaged.

Our Director, Richard Garside, will be giving evidence to the Justice Committee on Tuesday, 28 January at 9.30 am. It will be webcast live on Parliamentlive.TV.

Richard is also quoted in this Channel Four News FactCheck on crime statistics.

Related items

Crime statistics: Some Rumsfeldian ruminations (20 January, 2014)
Property crime, violence and recessions (28 January, 2014)
Making sense of crime trends (25 January, 2013)