I meant to write about this a month ago, but it slipped my mind. Anyway, a local news story of a bank job in my home town was ended with a quote from a member of the public beginning ‘this shows crime is getting worse’. Does it now?
The story was fairly standard. A number of men (in balaclavas) attacked a security guard as he made a delivery to Lloyds TSB. They drove off in a getaway car (Beemer, of course) which they dumped a few miles away, presumably getting into another car.
The police said ‘this is very unusual’, and yes crimes like this are. A local resident, in his 70s said it shows crime is getting worse… used to leave my back door open… it’s brazen to try a robbery in broad daylight.’
Funny thing is, most bank jobs are done in broad daylight, as far as I was aware. If you want to go in with a gun and a bag, you traditionally do this in the daytime, probably at opening or closing time ’cause the safes will be open for counting. Going at night is pointless, as the banks are closed. At night you need to break in, stop the alarm, do safe cracking and so on, unless it’s an inside job. If you’re going to rob the security van, you need to do this when it comes.
Indeed, the British Bankers’ Association said that last year saw more decline in bank robberies. The traditional ‘counter robbery’ has been in decline since 1992, and although this crime has been displaced to cash-in-transit robbery (as in this case) even this was lower last year. In this county there was one robbery like this in 2007, compared to two in 2006. (See here for some charts). Shocking!
All day I’ve heard and seen headlines stating ‘crimes by girls rise by a quarter’. And all day they’ve been wrong.
The BBC said ‘The number of crimes committed by girls in England and Wales has gone up by 25% in three years, according to figures’. What they should have said is the ‘number of offences committed and resulting in a disposal by young females rose by 25%’ (the Youth Justice Board’s report). That’s not the number of crimes committed, but those detected by police, with enough evidence and a known suspect, and so a official caution or conviction in a court. Definitely not the same thing.
It might be because girls are committing more crime. Or it could be because the police are getting better at catching girls, or previously let them off with a ticking off (because they were female), or because the nature of their offending is changing, or because policing is changing, and so on. Indeed, it’s even possible that changes in the law mean that some things young women were more likely to do are now crimes, whereas ten years ago they weren’t: if you were to make playing football where there are ‘no ball games’ signs a criminal offence, the number of boys committing crime would increase.
Funnily the report begins the relevant section with:
‘It is important to note that apart from this table, all figures in this section represent the number of offences resulting in a disposal and not the number of young people offending.’
This was to point out that number of offences isn’t the same as offenders (as some offenders get caught more than once), but it also reminds us that many people offend without ‘resulting in a disposal’.
This reminds me of all the problems with police statistics and fear of crime. The more effective policing is, the worse crime seems. Even in a situation where crime is stable, or even falling, more effective policing means more crime detected and prosecuted. It’s only detected crime that makes the statistics or the news: if you’re robbed and don’t bother with reporting it to the police it won’t make the news. Furthermore, it’s prosecutions that make most headlines: there’s stuff to report when the story is being discussed in the courtroom. So the more criminals the police catch, the more crime there is on the telly and in the papers. And so improving the police increases fear of crime…