The news that the level of reported crime in the UK has fallen over the last decade or two is the subject of much debate. Is it because crime has fallen, or because less is being reported? If crime has actually fallen, is that because the police are doing a better job or some other reason? Will crime fall or rise in the future?
My view is that our police are grossly overpaid (high salaries, huge pensions), often corrupt (by admission of chief inspectors), politically biased (plebgate, London riots) and self serving, lazy, inefficient, and generally a waste of money, and I don’t for a minute believe they deserve any credit for falling crime.
I think the crime figures are the sum of many components, none of which show the police in a good light. Let’s unpick that.
Let’s start from the generous standpoint that recorded crime may be falling – generous because even that assumes that they haven’t put too much political spin on the figures. I’d personally expect the police to spin it, but let’s ignore that for now.
Recorded crime isn’t a simple count of crimes committed, nor even those that people tell the police about.
Some crimes don’t even get as far as being reported of course. If confidence in the police is low, as it is, then people may think there is little point in wasting their time (and money, since you usually have to pay for the call now) in doing so. Reporting a crime often means spending ages giving loads of details, knowing absolutely nothing will happen other than, at best, that the crime is recorded. It is common perception based on everyday experience that police will often say there isn’t much they can do about x,y or z, so there is very little incentive to report many crimes. In the case of significant theft or vandalism someone might need a crime number to claim on insurance, but otherwise, if there is no hope that the police will find the criminal and then bother to prosecute them, many people won’t bother. So it is a safe assumption that a lot of crimes don’t even get as far as being mentioned to a police officer. I have seen many that I haven’t bothered to report, for exactly those reasons. So have you.
Once a crime does get mentioned to the police, it still has to jump over some more hurdles to actually make it into the official books. From personal experience, I know some cases fall at those hurdles too. As well as the person telling the police, the person has to persuade the police to do something about it and demand that it is recorded. Since police want to look good, they resist doing that and will make excuses for not recording it officially. The police may also try to persuade the crime reporter to let them mark a case as solved even when it hasn’t been. They may also just sideline a case and hope it is forgotten about. So, some reported offences don’t make it onto the books and some that do are inaccurately marked as solved.
This means that crime levels exceed recorded crime levels. No big surprise there. But if that has been the case for many years, as it has, and recorded crime levels have fallen, that would still indicate a fall in crime levels. But that still doesn’t make the police look good.
Technology improvement alone would be expected to give a very significant reduction in crime level. Someone is less likely to commit a car theft since it is harder to do so now. They are less likely to murder or rape someone if they know that it is almost impossible to avoid leaving DNA evidence all over the place. They are less likely to shoplift or mug someone if they are aware of zillions of surveillance cameras that will record the act. Improving technology has certainly reduced crime.
A further reduction in crime level is expected due to changes in insurance. If your insurance policies demand that you have a car immobiliser and a burglar alarm, and lock your doors and windows with high quality locks, as they probably do, then that will reduce both home and car crime.
Another reduction is actually due to lack of confidence in the police. If you believe for whatever reasons that the police won’t protect you and your property, you will probably take more care of it yourself. The police try hard to encourage such thinking because it saves them effort. So they tell people not to attract crime by using expensive phones or wearing expensive jewellery or dressing in short skirts. Few people have so little common sense that they need such advice from the police, and lack of confidence in police protection is hardly something they can brag about.
More controversially, still further reduction has been linked recently to the drop in lead exposure via petrol. This is hypothesised to have reduced violent tendencies a little. By similar argument, increasing feminisation of men due to endocrine disrupters in the environment may also have played a part.
So, if the police can’t claim credit for a drop in crime, what effect do they have?
The police have managed to establish a strong reputation for handing out repeat cautions to those repeat criminals they can be bothered to catch, and making excuses why the rest are just too hard to track down, yet cracking down hard on easy-to-spot first offenders on political correctness or minor traffic offences. In short, they have created something of an inverted prison, where generally law-abiding people live expecting harsh penalties for doing anything slightly naughty, so that they can show high clear-up stats, while hardened criminals can expect to be let off with a slight slap of the wrist. Meanwhile, recent confessions from police chiefs indicate astonishingly high levels of corruption in every force. It looks convincingly as if police are all too often on the wrong side of the law. One law for them and one for us is the consistent picture. Reality stands in stark contrast with the dedication shown in TV police dramas. A bit like the NHS then.
What of the future? Technology will continue to make it easier to look after your own stuff and prevent it being used by a thief. It will make it easier to spot and identify criminals and collect evidence. Insurance will make it more difficult to avoid using such technology. Lack of confidence in the police will continue to grow, so people will take even more on themselves to avoid crime. The police will become even more worthless, even more of a force of state oppression and political correctness and even more of a criminal’s friend.
Meanwhile, as technology makes physical crime harder, more criminals have moved online. Technology has kept up to some degree, with the online security companies taking the protector role, not the police. The police influence here is to demand every more surveillance, less privacy and more restriction on online activity, but no actual help at all. Again they seek to create oppression in place of protection.
Crime will continue to fall, but the police will deserve even less credit. If we didn’t already have the police, we might have to invent something, but it would bear little resemblance to what we have now.