Tuesday, December 23, 2008

British police ignore 4 in 10 crimes: Nearly 2m offences shelved because they're 'too hard to crack'

Police are failing to investigate almost four in every ten crimes, it was revealed last night. The offences include sex attacks, violent robberies, harassment, burglary and drug incidents. Instead of being pursued, the cases are simply filed away by officers who do not consider they can be solved.

Victims' groups have condemned this practice of 'screening out' offences - but it is alarmingly widespread. The Met, the country's largest force, decided that 51 per cent of crimes were not worth full investigations as there was little chance of catching the culprit. Across the country, the average for the 16 forces which gave full replies to the Daily Mail's Freedom of Information requests was 39 per cent. It is the equivalent of a staggering 1.9million of the five million crimes reported to the police by distressed members of the public not being fully investigated. And it goes a long way to explain why the detection rates for all crimes, and burglary in particular, are so low. On average, only 27 per cent of crimes are solved.

A spokesman for Victim Support said: 'Even if this process is justified by lack of evidence, the figures are likely to undermine confidence in the police among victims. 'If victims feel that their experience of crime is being dismissed by the very agencies that are meant to deal with the situation, that risks adding insult to injury.'

The Tories said the target-obsessed Government had forced the police to chase 'diktats' rather than criminals. Police forces have adopted the tactic of screening out crimes in response to Government targets insisting they must bring a fixed number of offenders 'to justice' each year. It has led to officers targeting resources almost exclusively on cases with the best chance of success. Many of the most common offences are routinely filed 'not for action' by telephone operators at the first possible stage, after the first initial call reporting the crime.

By recording it as a crime, the officer is acknowledging the law has been broken. The main reasons the investigation is dropped are if there are no obvious leads, such as the name of the suspected offender. Police chiefs defend the system as a way to target resources on the most serious and solvable crimes. They insist that all crimes are 'investigated' to some degree, even if this amounts to no more than a telephone conversation. Serious crimes such as murder, wounding or rape are always investigated, as are crimes where there is a named suspect or obvious forensic evidence.

But opponents say it is a far cry from the days when almost every victim of crime received a visit from an officer, and an attempt was at least made to find the culprit. The Tories said it was a symptom of a lack of public accountability within the police service. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith abandoned plans for elected police representatives earlier this week. Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'This is a consequence of Labour's target culture which has resulted in our police being forced to chase Whitehall diktats instead of criminals. 'Conservatives would replace police authorities with elected police commissioners so that the priorities of the police reflect the priorities of the people they serve.'

In London, the Met said that in the 2007/8 financial year it screened out a total of 437,888 offences. These included 26,709 offences of violence, 338 sex attacks, 5,562 robberies and more than 60,000 burglaries. For burglary, the Met only investigate one in three cases reported to them. In Bedfordshire, which last year screened out 42 per cent of crimes, one in three burglaries doesn't get a full investigation. Although the percentage of screened out crime falls for more serious offences the force still excluded 290 offences of violence, 12 sex attacks, 32 robberies and 16 drugs offences.

In Norfolk, where 113 sex attacks were amongst the 42 per cent of crime screened out, the deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth said: 'We are making best use of our resources by investigating only those crimes which have some hope or opportunity of being solved.' A spokesman for Bedfordshire Police said: 'Before any crime is "screened out" it will have been through a rigorous evaluation procedure.'

A Home Office spokesman said the Government had reduced centrally-set targets and planned to cut red tape to free up officers.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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