Police concern over rising recorded crime and falling officer numbers

Police recorded nearly five million offences in England and Wales over the period, 458,021 more than the same period last year.
Police recorded nearly five million offences in England and Wales over the period, 458,021 more than the same period last year.

The largest annual rise in crime recorded by police in a decade, coupled with a fall in officer numbers to the lowest in more than 30 years, has sparked concern among both chiefs and the rank-and-file.

Soaring levels of violence and theft, as well a rise in sex crimes, are behind a 10% year-on-year rise over the 12-month period to March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

And Home Office data also released on Wednesday shows there were 123,142 officers across all ranks in England and Wales at the end of March this year, which the report said was thought to be the lowest number since 1985.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said it was evidence "crime is changing", while the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) said the service was "struggling to keep pace".

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who made police numbers a core plank of the election campaign, said the figures were a "damning indictment" of the Conservative Government but Downing Street said another measure, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), was "more reliable".

Police recorded nearly five million offences in England and Wales over the period, 458,021 more than the same period last year.

The ONS said the surge was partly driven by a rise in violence against the person, which soared 18% to 175,060 offences.

A long-term decline in the rate of theft was also reversed, rising 7% to 118,774, while public order offences jumped 39% to 78,697.

Sexual offences rose 14% to the highest level since new recording standards were introduced in 2002, although the year-on-year rate of increase slowed.

NPCC lead for criminal justice, Chief Constable Simon Byrne, said: "The 10% rise in police recorded crime causes us concern, particularly when the number of police officers is at its lowest since 1985.

"It demonstrates how crime is changing with hidden crimes coming to the fore, old crimes are being committed in new ways and truly new crimes emerging.

"There are genuine rises in a range of crimes like theft, knife crime and some types of violent crime including homicide, and high numbers of people targeted by fraud and cyber offences."

And Steve White, PFEW chairman, said: "What more of a wake-up call does the Government need?

"Officer numbers are dropping consistently every year yet our members are having to deal with not only more crimes, but the most unimaginable atrocities such as those in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge."

He called for more investment, adding: "These figures demonstrate that this has not happened."

John Flatley, head of crime statistics for the ONS, said that while police recording had improved, he believed the figures represented "actual increases" in crime.

Knife and gun crime both rose by more than a fifth, with 5,800 more offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, and an increase of 1,200 involving a firearm.

The use of handguns in firearms offences rose 24%, the ONS said.

There were 723 homicides, an increase of 1,489 on the previous year, but this includes the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, the ONS said. When those cases are excluded, homicides rose by 9%.

Robbery was up 16%, or around 8,000 offences.

In a different measure, there were about 11 million offences covered by the (CSEW), including new experimental figures for fraud and cyber crimes.

But the ONS said there was an overall 7% reduction recorded by the CSEW when fraud and cyber crimes were excluded - falling from 6.3 million to 5.9 million.

The CSEW asks victims about experiences of a range of crimes but does not include the exact types measured by police figures, such as shoplifting, public order offences and possession of weapons.

Some 35,000 households are questioned for the CSEW and the response rate is 73%.

Mr Flatley said: "It's an effective measure of the crimes it was designed to measure but it was never designed to be a measure of total crime."

Downing Street said the CSEW - previously known as the British Crime Survey - was the "more reliable" measure.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There is a 7% fall in the British Crime Survey, which the ONS says is a statistically significant fall from the previous year. The ONS do say that the more reliable of the two measures is the British Crime Survey."

Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd said: "We recognise that crime is changing and we are determined to get ahead of new and emerging threats to the safety and security of our families and communities."

But Ms Abbott said: "The Tories have cut police officer numbers again in the latest 12 months and now there are well over 20,000 fewer than in 2010. And despite promising to protect budgets, they continue to cut funding even as senior figures in policing line up to warn they are overstretched and struggle to cope with demand."

Rachel Almeida, Victim Support's head of policy, said the rising figures are "a great cause for concern, especially given the increase in recorded violent crimes, threatening behaviour and theft".