Friday, 25 October 2013

The Only Uniform Tom Winsor Should Be Allowed To Wear



The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) is finally conducting an inquiry into crime statistics. Responding to pressure from ministers, the Committee will be examining whether appropriate checks are in place to ensure crimes are recorded properly and therefore whether policy makers in government, as well as the public, can have confidence in crime statistics.
The inquiry poses the questions:-

1. Are crimes being recorded by the police when they should be? Are crimes being categorised correctly?

2. What are the factors which can influence police mis-recording of crime?

3. Are the right checks in place to ensure that the systems for recording crime function effectively and accurately?

4. Has enough been done to ensure the integrity of crime data? What more should be done?

5. To what extent can policy-makers have confidence in the statistics which result from the recording of crime by police forces?

6. Should recorded crime statistics be classified as National Statistics?

A review of crime recording in Kent by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found that appreciably more needs to be done before the people of Kent can be confident that the crime and resolution figures published by the force are as accurate as they should be.

Sooner or later, the lid will be prized off this statistical can of worms and the public will learn, once and for all that the figures have been fiddled mercilessly for years.
Ironic that in the same week that astounding revelations about falling crime, that ONE senior police officer has raised her head above the parapet and admitted that it’s all one big sham.
In an article in Police Oracle Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis, Chair of the Superintendents Association, showed courage and integrity lacking in many of her ACPO colleagues, by admitting that league tables and performance targets had created a culture of “Gaming” – cooking the books or just plain fiddling to you and me.
To quote Chief Superintendent Curtis :
“For many years forces have been compared with others at a national level and this has resulted in league tables being promulgated throughout the service down to individual level.  I know this because I was part of it. As both an Operations Superintendent and a BCU Commander I spent much of my time focused on the reds and greens. I recall conversations with colleagues about them holding back detections for the current month as they had reached their target and therefore could keep some in the bank for next month. Discussions about whether we should be encouraging staff to charge offenders with public order offences or drunk and disorderly, depending on whether our focus was on detection rates or crime reduction. I’ve also sat through many performance meetings trying to explain why my BCU’s crime figures had gone up or down by X per cent and what I was going to do about it.
I look back now with some sadness that I was part of a culture that appeared to treat numbers as being more important than doing the right thing and yet for a long time I didn’t do anything to challenge it.
I've spoken to a number of colleagues about this recently, including some chief officers, and I often hear responses such as, 'that doesn't happen in my force' or, 'targets are necessary otherwise staff won’t do what's required.'
Well that doesn’t fit with what I’m hearing. I'm picking up a growing sense of frustration from colleagues in the federated ranks who feel under immense pressure to deliver targets and feel that gaming is often the only way they can deliver this. There’s no doubt about it, the use of numerical targets in performance management is embedded in the police psyche”.
Regular visitors to the Thin Blue Line blog know that they have not only been protesting about the scandal of  police cooking the books of crime for many years, but have also provided detailed reports of precisely how this is being done.
There is more than anecdotal evidence, there is rank and file officer comments and detailed hard facts to prove how the statistics are regularly fudged and manipulated. Chief Officers must be held to account for this. Whether they have constructed the systems that fiddle, condoned the actions or merely turned a blind eye to the practices, it is ONLY THEY who have benefitted from this distortion and manipulation. It is ONLY THEY who received exorbitant bonus payments down the years (payments that make the MP Expenses Scandal appear paltry by comparison), to reflect crime reductions and detection increases. It is ONLY THEY who advanced their careers and political ambitions on the back of this disgraceful deception. It is the general public who are being conned, the rank and file who have lost faith in their superiors.
Steve Williams, the head of the Police Federation when interviewed by the Telegraph, confirmed that a "fear factor" is preventing officers from blowing the whistle on how crime statistics are being manipulated and that crime figures are being kept artificially low because of pressure from chief constables.

At last there seems to be some traction building behind the need to investigate the way police record crime. Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said he wanted to
review how all the country's police forces record crimes amid concerns officers are deliberately changing statistics.
Cooking the books on crime –
Is it just a game to Chief Officers?
Just as turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, Home Office civil servants, ministers and Chief Police Officers are hardly likely to concede that the crime figures are as badly flawed as is suspected. Supported by front line police corroboration, the Home Office process of collating and presenting crime statistics can no longer be trusted as a measure of crime in the UK.
The rot in recorded crime and detections goes back many years. The senior management have long since relied upon their store of tricks for “cooking the books”, or “Gaming” as it has become known. It was interesting to see the retired West Midlands Detective Chief Inspector, Dr Rodger Patrick confirming these practices are still prevalent in this telegraph article.
"Cuffing” “Stiching” “Skewing” and “Nodding” are all familiar terms to both the front line and Chief Officers, as methods of manipulating the numbers to perpetuate the illusion of falling crime. Rank and file officers confirm the practices remain endemic across the forces. This research demonstrates that senior officers are directing and controlling widespread manipulation of crime figures. The public are misled, politicians can claim crime is falling and chief officers are or have been rewarded with performance-related bonuses.
The techniques identified by Dr Patrick include:
“Cuffing” – in which officers make crimes disappear from official figures by either recording them as a “false report” or downgrading their seriousness. For example, a robbery in which a mobile phone is stolen with violence or threats of violence is recorded as “theft from the person”, which is not classed as a violent crime.
“Stitching” – from “stitching up”, whereby offenders are charged with a crime when there is insufficient evidence. Police know that prosecutors will never proceed with the case but the crime appears in police records to have been “solved”.
“Skewing” – when police activity is directed at easier-to-solve crimes to boost detection rates, at the expense of more serious offences such as sex crimes or child abuse.
“Nodding” – where clear-up rates are boosted by persuading convicted offenders to admit to crimes they have not committed, in exchange for inducements such as a lower sentence.
Dr Patrick, who researched the subject for a PhD, said: “The academics call this ‘gaming’ but front line police officers would call it fiddling the figures, massaging the books or, the current favourite term, ‘good housekeeping’. It is a bit like the police activities that we all thought stopped in the 1970s.”
Denis O'Connor, the former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, published an official report into the way police record violent crime and admitted the figures may be skewed by "perverse incentives" around government performance targets.  As Dr Patrick discovered though, the HMIC and Police Standards Unit have displayed a general tendency to underplay the scale and nature of the practices. It certainly begs the question as to why there are no examples of Chief Officers being brought to book, or even publicly criticised for this type of crime figure manipulation. Apparently, the HMIC refer examples of widespread gaming to the Home Secretary or police authority, rather than "hold the chief constable to account" because of the risk of political embarrassment.
John Flatley and Jenny Bradley at the Crime, Regional and Data Access Division of the ONS produced a paper analysing the methods of gathering crime statistics:-
In this report the ONS concedes that a growing number of crimes reported to the police are not being captured in crime recording systems. There are a range of possible drivers for this including:
• performance pressures associated with targets (e.g. to reduce crime or increase detection rates) acting as perverse incentives for some crimes to be downgraded from notifiable into non-notifiable categories or as ASB or as crime-related incidents (which are not captured in data returned to the Home Office);
• though forces have continued with their own internal audits, the cessation of independent audits from 2006/07 onwards may have reduced the focus on addressing non-compliance;
• the move to Neighbourhood Policing in recent years may also have led to more low level crimes being dealt with informally and outside the formal crime recording system; and,
• in the context of pressure on police budgets and a general policy shift to promote greater officer discretion, a return to a more evidential recording model.
So, in addition to detailed reports containing evidence from front line officers, Home Office and force statistics down the years on this subject:-
•The Office for National Statistics concedes that accuracy of the numbers is potentially affected by perverse incentives to downgrade, mis-report or ignore crimes.
•A high ranking Officer, Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis concedes that the service has fallen victim to the "Gaming Culture."
•The Chairman of the Police Federation confirms that rank and file officers are ordered to manipulate the numbers.
•Tom Winsor, the HMIC announces there will be a review to examine the probity of the numbers in all 43 forces.
•Behind the scenes, a number of debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords are accelerating pressure in the right direction.
It is unfortunate that Mr Winsor has, by virtue of his police pay review recommendations in Winsor I and II become unpopular with the rank and file. It is these very front line officers whose support he will require when investigating the corrupt and disgraceful practices that have become the norm within the higher ranks of the service. We can only hope that he will apply a ruthless honest approach to the numbers and be prepared to expose the truth, whatever that may reveal. Only when the books have been completely opened and cleansed will the glimmer of faith and confidence appear. We hope Mr Winsor will see beyond the initial co-operative promises of Chief Officers, and dig as deep as is necessary to expose the deceitful pernicious practices.
This scandal will raise further concerns over the leadership and integrity of many of the past and present Chief Officers. We should expect that a considerable degree of document shredding and concealment and we hope Mr Winsor is prepared for the extent to which some will go to protect their positions. Mr Winsor will have to display a ruthless determination to uncover the truth if the public and rank and file officers are to be convinced of his independence and intentions to root out any improper practices.
The Truth and Consequences of Manipulating Crime Statistics
Imagine for a moment, you are the CEO of a 45 branch national plc. It is reasonable to expect a degree of performance variance due to the differing conditions each area faces. In policing, this was certainly the case prior to performance targeting. Chief Officer 15% bonus payments & the allure of the career advancement rewards magically turned also ran forces into super cops almost overnight. Are we expected to swallow this? Knowing what we know of course not, but even the man in the street wouldn’t require a degree is statistics to spot that some book cooking was going on here.
Year       Rec Crime           +/-          A*          B*
2003       5,974,960                                            
2004       6,013,759             0.65%    17/44     39%
2005       5,637,511             -6.26%  37/44     84%
2006       5,555,172             -1.46%  30/44     68%
2007       5,427,558             -2.30%  32/44     73%
2008       4,952,277             -8.76%  43/44     98%
2009       4,702,697             -5.04%  42/44     95%
2010       4,338,295             -7.75%  43/44     98%
2011       4,150,916             -4.32%  39/44     89%
2012       4,023,253             -3.08%  38/45     84%
2013       3,731,338             -7.26%  44/45     98%
A*= Number of forces showing a decrease in crime on previous year
B* = % of forces overall showing decrease in crime
Although the use of performance measures was to have been initiated by earlier Conservative Governments in the 1980s and 1990s it was the comprehensive application of such measures and targets to all public services including policing by New Labour during its second term of office,  that really saw the recorded crime manipulation escalate. Are we realistically expected to believe that such a disparate organisation as the 44 force police service could so unanimously (98% of the service in 2013) and consistently, reduce crime year after year, without there being some form of gaming activity?
The consequences are clear for all to see.
As a result of the gaming practices, politicians use crime statistics as a political football. Prior to their succession to office, the Coalition conducted a Comprehensive Spending Review. The Chief Officer strategy of artificially slashing crime was soon to have its consequences. The CSR included policing within its remit and officer numbers have been slashed, with massive further budget and resource cuts as politicians, choosing to believe the pr value of even fallacious numbers, proudly boast that forces can achieve “more with less”.  The rank and file officers at the sharp end know this is impossible. Overstretched as a result of depleted numbers, their professional integrity threatened by the practices they are forced to implement, little wonder morale is at its lowest ebb.
The real victim of crime statistic manipulation is the general public. They deserve a police service that will protect their lives and property, prevent and detect crime. Whilst Chief Officers and politicians continue to perpetuate the myth of falling crime and increased detections, the public and honest hard working coppers will be cheated out of the police service they want and deserve. 
Let us hope that this inquiry will finally prize open the statistical can of worms, whatever the consequences, so that the real needs of the service and the public may be met. Only then might we see public confidence start to return and officer morale return. I’ll say it before you do … yeah really!
Well, a guy can dream can’t he?
Steve Bennett
Retired West Midlands Police Officer

Search Site

Our Top 10 Read Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Internet Marketing & Social Networking

LinkedIn Tutorials