A fifth of all crime goes unrecorded, according to ‘shocking’ new figures revealed by HMIC.
It depends on your definition of shocking, really.
Here is Inspector Gadget in Perverting the Course of Justice explaining why it is that even when they aren’t ‘no criming’ it as being down to badgers, the cops don’t always come out when your shed gets broken into (it’s not always because the bobbies at the sharp end don’t want to):
CONTROL STRATEGY CRIME, AND OTHER JARGON THAT WINDS PEOPLE UP
TWO other things I explain to people who complain, if they still have the will to live, are Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime. They’re separate but intertwined, like much of the semi-impenetrable undergrowth of police bureaucracy.
I was at a dinner party the other night. As the only policeman there, I was obviously cornered for most of the evening by people who wanted to ask how many people I had shot (none) / ask if it’s true that you can drink three pints on a full stomach and still drive (it’s not) / complain about the police.
One chap, Steve, was quite persistent. He’d been the victim of a criminal damage: his garage door had been sprayed with the word ‘Tosser’ and the window in the side of the garage had been smashed.
‘I phoned your lot,’ said Steve. ‘All they were interested in was giving me a crime number to claim on my insurance. What about coming out to look for the buggers that did it?’
I couldn’t speak for his specific case – different force – but it was a familiar story.
This is about Control Strategy Crime and Volume Crime.
CS Crime means types of crime that bureaucrats, our own and those in the Home Office hundreds of miles away, dictate to us as priorities. They will always include the really big stuff like rape and murder, plus domestic burglary and street robbery, but the other six or so will be things that will come onto and drop off our crime control strategy from time to time. I’ve just looked, and today they are:
Commercial premises burglary
Burglary non-dwelling (sheds)
Theft from motor vehicles
Theft of motor vehicles
Shed burglaries just came onto our list at the expense of class A drug use.
That’s not because people round our way aren’t bothered about heroin addicts on the streets, and they really care about the theft of Strimmers, it’s because our analysts say we’ve got Class A drugs under control for the time being, so we aren’t worried about that any more.
On the other hand, we’ve had a few shed breaks, so we need to get right on it. This means that everything we’ve got in terms of proactive resources – cameras, technical, scenes of crime, surveillance units – is diverted to the sheds.
It means identifying offenders, looking into recent prison releases, leafleting homes, target-hardening and crime prevention.
It means putting people out in plain clothes at night, focusing all the down time on those areas, targeting handlers.
It means that every single person, when they are not doing a job, goes to those places where the sheds have been hit before, because it is not just a type of crime, it is an area too, a ‘hot spot’.
‘Volume Crime’, meanwhile, is stuff exactly like that in the list above – the thefts from motor vehicles, minor criminal damages, shed burglaries, graffiti and all the attempts to do these sorts of things – but which is not at such a level, locally, as to have made it to the Control Strategy Crime list.
The Home Office says, officially, that we need not investigate these crimes as long as they’re not currently on our Control Strategy, and they fit certain criteria.
These can be evidential (Did anyone witness the crime? Does anyone know who the offenders are? Did they leave anything behind? Is it on camera?) or value-based (If something was nicked or damaged, how much was it worth?)
The interplay between these two factors can, unsurprisingly, confuse and annoy our punters.
I assume Steve’s force didn’t have criminal damage on its list of Control Strategy Crime when he called, which is why they fobbed him off. If it is on the list the following week, after a spate of such incidents, and his neighbour’s garage gets done over, the neighbour will get the full works.
I understand how bad this looks.
I don’t like not investigating crimes, however minor they might be.
I would love it if every burglary victim got CSI and an investigating officer there within a reasonable time.
I think it would be great if we could attend every criminal damage report, even if it turns out there is nothing there for us in the way of leads.
Broken windows policing, pioneered in New York, where low-level crime is vigorously pursued, has a lot going for it (as long as the offenders get proper sanctions at court, which they wouldn’t in the UK but do in the States).
We like hassling petty criminals.
But we’re back to our old friend reality again. What I would like, and you would like, is one thing: what we can deliver with current resources and ways of working is another.
Steve’s garage is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you visit Google and type in the phrase ‘police fail to investigate crimes’ you come up with a stack of newspaper stories from November 2007.
A typical headline, from The Sunday Telegraph, is: ‘Official: Police leave two million crimes uninvestigated’.
In the story, the reporter explains how we are ‘refusing to investigate crimes including huge numbers of burglaries and thefts’.
The implication is that we are giving criminals an easy ride, and the story was widely commented upon, mostly by angry readers. The redoubtable Norman Brennan, the chairman of the Victims of Crime Trust and (then) a serving police officer, told the paper: ‘The public are our masters and have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime.’
There are two elements to this. The first is about solving crimes. The second is doing all we can to try to solve them.
There are some crimes we have no chance of ever clearing up.
I’m sorry if that sounds defeatist, but it’s the truth. Often, there just are no lines of enquiry – people smash up a bus stop at 2am and run off, there’s no CCTV and no-one sees them. There’s not much we can really do about that.
However, in many cases, as Steve would confirm, we don’t even turn up to have a look.
This is because, if we attended the scene and carried out an investigation every time anyone threw a brick through a window, or scratched a car, or wrote ‘Tosser’ on a garage, the whole law enforcement system as it currently stands, with existing resources, would grind to a halt and we would not be able to deal with more serious things.
If Sunday Telegraph readers really want us to investigate every one of those two million volume crimes, they need to understand that this will require a sizeable hike in the tax levy to pay for even more police.
A practical example. We regularly get people calling to complain that their neighbour’s burglar alarm has been ringing for hours and we haven’t turned up. I’ve read research suggesting that something like 13 million burglar alarms go off every year. If we attended them all, we’d need a police force twice the size of the US Army. So what we do is ask the caller to go and have a quick look and see if he can see anything suspicious, at which point he gets outraged, and starts asking what he pays his taxes for.
(Of course, if we cut back on our paperwork and got more of us out on the streets, we could certainly cover much more than we do with our current numbers.)
Most reasonable people understand this – even if they don’t like it – when you explain it to them.
It would help if police forces and the Government took that line, instead of making dream world promises about how they’re going to deal with minor crime through Neighbourhood Policing and Citizen Focus and whatever follows next.
It would also help if [Victims of Crime Trust founder] Norman Brennan’s suggestion that ‘the public have a right to know why we don’t turn up to every call and investigate every crime’ was accompanied by an explanation from Norman as to why this is the case.
The truth is, only people who can really deal with much of this stuff are the public themselves.
Indeed, they used to deal with it without us and, in many parts of the country, they still do. In the village where I live, for instance, we don’t have problems with kids smashing up the phone box, because our local parents control their kids. No-one else does that for us.
It’s not because of the massive police presence in the area, because there isn’t one. In a lot of places, people now look to the police to do that kind of job, but we just can’t do it, however much we might like to.
In the absence of 200,000 new bobbies or a radical change in working practices, I suppose we do have to have some method of getting crime down to a manageable heap.
Personally, I don’t think it should be done on how much of it there is; I think it should be done on the moral equivalence of it.
If 90-year-old Gladys has had some scumbag in her house nicking her life savings, that should be of greater priority than some drug dealer who gets boshed over the head when a deal goes wrong.
But it won’t be, because his is a ‘street crime’ and hers is just a theft.