In the 1970s the nationalised British Gas Corporation had a policy that its gas showrooms had ex-directory telephone numbers. This was because customers were regarded as a nuisance and keeping telephone numbers secret was an effective way of minimising involvement with them. I was reminded of this about ten years ago when I hung up after waiting on the phone for around 20 minutes for the local police station trying to report a crime. Had I managed to get through, the crime statistics would have notched up an extra crime. The harder it was to report crime the lower the reported crime rate.
In more recent years I noticed another perverse outcome. My local council of Hammersmith and Fulham funded a significant number of extra police for the Shepherd’s Bush Green Ward. Some crimes, such as street robbery, fell dramatically. But others – such as drug dealing – notionally increased. This was because there were more police to spot what was happening and there were more police around for the public to speak to.
So measuring crime is problematic. But all the various indicators – figures from crime recorded by the police, the annual Crime Survey based on interview with 50,000 members of the public, reports from NHS A&E departments – suggest a significant fall in crime since 2010.
Some reports describe this as a long term trend. But the Labour Government’s record was rather less conclusive. The House of Commons
Library conducted an analysis of violent crimes.and concluded the number of crimes of violence against the person in 2008/09 was 887,942 – an increase of 44 per cent on the figure of 618,417 for 1998/99. That was after allowing for a change in the way the figures were calculated. The then Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson countered that the British Crime Survey showed a reduction in violent crime between 1997 and 2009 of 41 per cent.
The big fall in crime began in 1995 when Michael Howard was Home Secretary. He said “Prison Works.” The number in prison almost doubled – it was 45,000 in 1990, it’s around 85,000 now. It has been shown that prison does work. That does not mean that rehabilitation doesn’t matter or that prison is the only factor. For instance, technology has also made a difference. It is much harder to steal cars. CCTV has improved detection. These are factors that have assisted in a fall in crime internationally.
However, even if we accept Labour’s preferred measure, of the Crime Survey, crime is falling much faster since 2010 than it was before. Much of the fall under the Labour Government was in their early years when they were sensibly sticking to Michael Howard’s policies.
Then in 2001/02 crime rose by two per cent (even after allowing for a change in the calculation method.)
In 2002/03, crime fell by two per cent. In 2003/04 crime rose one per cent. 2004/05 saw a fall of seven per cent. In both 2005/06 and 2006/07 there was “no significant change.” In 2007/08 – there was a 10 per cent fall. But in 2008/09 the crime survey said the level of crime was “stable.” In 2009/10 there was a fall of nine per cent. Then 2010/11 was flat.
So that fall of 15 per cent is very impressive. It offers some encouragement that the increased accountability and transparency in the police force is achieving results – not just according to their own figures but according to what the public experience as identified by an independent survey.
We shall see if that trend can be sustained