Roger Evans, the Police and Crime Spokesman for the Conservatives on the London Assembly, says its's good the crime level is falling – but too much of it is still ignored by the police
There are currently two big ‘C’ words hovering around the debate on policing – ‘Corruption’ and ‘Cuts’. However, crime is actually going down and corruption is finally being exposed and tackled as never before. One of my main concerns is ‘Confidence’ and this is affected by how police respond to crime when it is reported to them.
The majority of us have been, or know someone who has been, a victim of acquisitive crime. My own property has been broken into and burgled, and I have friends and constituents whose cars have vanished after a night out or whose mobiles have been grabbed from their hands. Yet time and time again I am told by victims that, in spite of available witnesses, noted down number plates, trackable phones or CCTV of the crime, the police too often do not pursue this evidence.
The police claim they investigate all crimes but that only a “number…will require secondary investigation.” In layman’s terms this means that all crimes undergo an initial ‘assessment’ to establish whether the crime is "detectable" and therefore worthy of actually investigating, by looking at CCTV and gathering other evidence. Too often the police decide not to carry out this second investigation. They claim this is because the crime was not “detectable”. Yet how can they be so sure without looking at the available evidence to actually ‘detect’ it? CCTV is everywhere.
In 2007 it was claimed that the UK had one per cent of the world's population but 20% of its CCTV cameras. We are told it is for our safety. Yet, apart from during the summer riots of 2011 – where it was used to catch many thieves and burglars – CCTV is rarely used.
The figures are worrying. The police are effective at responding to homicide and rape cases and none of these cases are screened-out, which should always be the case. However acquisitive crime is less of a priority. In London, 40 per cent of house burglaries, 23 per cent of robberies, 81 per cent of bike thefts and 76 per cent of car thefts were not investigated last year.
The figures may well be even worse outside London – where 40 per cent of all crimes are screened-out – since in the rest of the country over half (55 per cent) of all crimes are not properly investigated. This sends a heartening message to any thief or burglar, that they can rest assured that many of their crimes will be ignored by police!
Some commentators may try to blame this predicament on budget cuts and a lack of resources. But they are wrong. This has nothing to do with cuts as the police have been failing to properly investigate these types of crimes for decades. Nor does it necessarily have much to do with resources.
The police have managed to find up to £20 million to spend on the phone hacking investigation. The simple truth is this – the police often do not have the incentive to pursue acquisitive crime. It is not a high profile field but it requires laborious work to solve it.
Acquisitive crime is serious. Breaking into someone’s home or stealing something with sentimental value can have a long lasting and devastating impact on the victim’s emotional wellbeing. Stealing something valuable from a person or small business can also be seriously damaging financially. Also, many criminals’ become bolder and escalate their activities each time they get away with it, so by not taking acquisitive crime seriously, we are storing up problems for the future.
Victims of crime should be allowed the right to appeal to an independent body – such as the new local safer neighbourhood boards being introduced in London – if the police decide not to investigate their crime. Clear standards should be set so that we know why investigations are dropped.
We need a dramatic shift in the way police see these crimes. Acquisitive crime may not be sexy, but it is serious.