"Crime is spiralling"


The two main sources of crime statistics in Britain are the British Crime Survey (BCS) and police recorded crime figures. Neither show crime spiralling, or even rising.

Both BCS and police figures show that crime rose steadily in the 1980s, then peaked in the early 1990s, then fell steadily until 1998/1999. After that, the BCS has shown continued falls in crime each year, while police recorded figures have shown some rises, due mainly to changes in recording procedures beginning in 1998, which have created artificial increases upto the present.

The media fallacy is to take an element of police recorded figures, then misreport as follows:

FALLACY 1 – Report an "increase" in a specific area of crime, but fail to report that the "increase" has been created artificially by changes to police recording procedures.

FALLACY 2 – Report a statistical anomaly/exception as if it is representative of overall trends, and fail to indicate relative insignificance of the anomaly/exception.

Example: Incidents such as minor drunken scuffles outside pubs have been reclassified as "violent crime", artificially increasing the total of police-recorded violent crime. This "increase" in a specific crime is then falsely presented by some tabloid newspapers as representative of a general trend in violent crime.

In 2001, the media reported an increase in street crime (eg robbery and assault), domestic violence and racial attacks. Of the 589,000 cases of assault, 557,000 were "less serious attacks such as harassment and common assault", largely due to drunken youths outside clubs and pubs. The 21% increase in robberies was, to a large extent, due to theft of mobile phones from teenagers by other teenagers (described by the Daily Mail as a "playground plague"). The recorded increases in domestic and racial violence were partly due to "changes in police recording practices and the increased willingness of victims of domestic violence and racial attacks to report the offences" (quotes taken from The Guardian 17/1/2001).

More on violent crime / changes to recording procedures >

Crime seems to be falling

The British Crime Survey (BCS) has reported a continual fall in overall crime since 1995. It claims that:

• Crime has fallen by 25% in the last five years

• The risk of becoming a victim of crime is at an historic low

• There has been a 39% fall in burglary since 1997

• The average household is burgled only once every 50 years

• There's been a 31% fall in vehicle-related thefts since 1997

(Source: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/crimeew0203.html)

Statistics Abuse

Criminologists regard the BCS as one of the most reliable crime surveys in the world (due partly to its large sample of 40,000 people). The BCS shows higher crime levels than recorded police figures, since it takes into account unreported/unrecorded crime. For this reason, the BCS was once favoured by scaremongering politicians/media.

Since 1995, however, the BCS has shown consistent falls in crime, including violent crime. The politicians/media who once favoured the BCS now favour the police figures instead (since, given a superficial reading, they show more crime increases).

But even the police figures reinforce/confirm BCS findings when investigated in more detail (eg allowances made for recording changes). The two sets of figures are published together by the Home Office.

(Note: crime figures quoted are for England and Wales).

More information on police recorded crime figures and the British Crime Survey:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/hosb1004.pdf (Latest BCS report – 1MB)