#007/2009 – Forces must ensure accurate recording of violence

Most violence is being recorded correctly by police but some victims may have been denied the service they deserve because their allegations were not recorded as crimes, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

Overall, a review of 43 police forces in England and Wales found that in more than 9 out of 10 cases, officers generally classified and recorded crimes correctly.

Human error is inevitable but in some forces the error rates were much higher than in others and this needs to be followed up.

The Review found:

  1. Most forces correctly decided which calls from the public should not be treated as violent crime (incidents). Overall more than 9 out of 10 of these decisions were correct. The error rates varied between forces – in some fewer than 9 out of 10 were correct.
  2. For the calls that were treated as a violent crime, most forces classified and recorded the crime correctly (most serious violence and assault with less serious injury). Overall more than 9 out of 10 were correct. The error rates varied between forces – in some fewer than 9 out of 10 were correct.
  3. However, of the 5% of violent crimes that were removed from the record after police decided that there had been no crime, just over 6 in 10 of these decisions were correct. Due to the low volume of these cases, it is not possible to comment reliably on the differences between error rates in particular forces.
  4. HMIC accepts recording violence can be a difficult area, involving more subjective judgements by police than other crime categories.

Errors will never be eradicated, at least not without a huge increase in bureaucracy. Where errors were made, some of the victims would not have received the care and service they deserved.

Some forces made more errors than others because they either over-recorded or under-recorded violence.

If the Audit Commission’s grades for the quality of police recording of crimes were applied to HMIC’s findings, 7 forces would have graded fair or poor in at least two of the three tests.

Inspectors looked for errors in the most likely places, enabling them to target resources on a small sample.

For these reasons, it would be statistically irresponsible to extrapolate some of the findings to the national figures.

Work done in forces since the sample was taken is likely to have resulted in improvement.

HM Chief Inspector Denis O’Connor said that in a “small sample of recorded crime, there were worrying examples of incorrect decisions”.

He added: “While the actual numbers of wrongly recorded crimes are small, this is not about statistics but about victims – victims that need police help the most.

“The emotional and psychological effects of violent crime can linger long after the injuries have healed. If crimes are wrongly recorded as ‘incidents’ or ‘No Crime’, the victims will not receive the standard of care and help they deserve.”

“Given the statistically limited basis for our review we cannot, and will not, make sweeping generalisations about what our findings mean for national crime figures. We do say, though, that the public have a right to have confidence in the reliability of violent crime figures and they should be checked.

“And the issues we have raised should be addressed, in the interests of victims and the public.”

Examples of wrongly recorded events include:

  • A female pensioner said she was pushed to the floor, banged her head and was kicked repeatedly by four offenders while on the ground. The force recorded the crime as inflicting grievous bodily harm without intent. HMIC would classify it as wounding or carrying out an act endangering life, a form of Most Serious Violence.
  • A victim of an attack in a pub said he was punched repeatedly in the head, pushed to the floor and continually kicked. The injuries included a swollen eye, cuts and swelling to the head and cheek and bruising to knees, legs and hands. The force recorded the crime as ABH (Assault With Less Serious Injury) while HMIC would classify it as attempted grievous bodily harm with intent (Most Serious Violence).
  • A husband allegedly smashed up his wife’s car, threw things at the window and threatened her with a stick. The force classified the offence as an incident while HMIC would classify it as a criminal damage.

Mr O’Connor added: “The majority of forces are getting most of their decisions right.

“But the fact that some forces have low errors rates proves that it is possible to deliver the standard of care and accuracy the public deserve and we may return to inspect forces with consistently higher error rates to tackle the problem.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The full report and further information on the role of HMIC can be found at www.inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk/hmic.
  2. In January 2009, the previous Home Secretary commissioned HMIC to carry out a review across all 43 police forces of the way in which they recorded most serious violence.
  3. The 43 forces include all forces in England and Wales – with the exception of the City of London police because its figures were so small – and the British Transport Police. Data from July to September 2008 was reviewed by inspectors.
  4. Inspectors reviewed the 43 forces’ data on violent crimes from July to September 2008 and pinpointed four possible causes for the errors:
    • Confusion over a significant number of changes to the Home Office Counting Rules – the national standard for recording offences – during the past few years.
    • Lack of independent monitoring of recording data quality.
    • Poor-quality reports by investigators which fail to detail the true extent of victims’ injuries.
  5. The report makes the following recommendations:
    • Those forces with a consistently higher error rates should be subject of further review and inspection.
    • The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office should define an acceptable error rate in recording crime that reflects public concerns in relation to offences of violence.
    • There is need for better support and guidance.
    • The process of deciding and recording whether a violent crime has been committed needs to be clear.
    • The law relating to assaults, which is nearly 150 years old, needs to be reviewed.
    • There is a need for better quality assurance in relation to crime data.
  6. Since 2005, there have been three changes to the Home Office Counting Rules relating to fraud, violence against the person and non-sanction detections. There have also been 150 minor changes to reflect the introduction of new laws and there have been 170 clarifications.
  7. The Audit Commission when reviewing the compliance with National Crime Recording Standard in 2003 – 2007 used a banding system and rated compliance as: Excellent – 95% or more, Good – 90 to 94.9%, Fair 80 to 89.9%, Poor – 79.9% or less.
  8. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest and rigorously examines the effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence.
  9. HMIC inspects and regulates all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and HMRC.
  10. The HMIC press office can be contacted on 0207 035 2712.