“Since Boris Johnson stepped down as London mayor, crime in Khan’s London has soared at five times the rate of the rest of the country.”
The Sun, 1 October 2020
After being “mugged in broad daylight” recently, journalist Dan Wootton has claimed in the Sun that in London, crime has risen five times faster than the rest of the country since Sadiq Khan became mayor in 2016.
This is incorrect. Between the year ending June 2016 (i.e. roughly the whole year before Mr Khan was elected in May 2016), and the year to March 2020 (the latest data) the total number of recorded crimes per person increased by 18% in London and by 31% across England in general. So not five times faster, as Mr Wootton claims, but slower.
If you just look at the past year, rather than all years since Mr Khan became mayor, the claim has more basis in fact, although still needs a lot of context.
Among other things, it refers to crimes recorded by the police, which may not be the best measure of the real level of crime.
Where did the claim come from?
It’s possible Mr Wootton may have misquoted a report in the Evening Standard from July this year which claimed crime in London had risen five times faster than the rest of England over the past year, not since 2016.
In actual fact the Evening Standard article appears to have compared the change in crime in London to England overall, not “the rest of England.” In the rest of England (without including London) recorded crime actually fell slightly.
The total number of crimes recorded by police in London increased by 5% in the year to March 2020 compared to the year to March 2019. Across England (including London) the rise was 1%.
Those figures are rounded to the nearest digit, however. If you use the unrounded figures for crimes recorded in England, compared to those recorded by the Metropolitan Police (the force for which Mr Khan is responsible) the difference in the rate of increase was lower at 3.4 times.
This data excludes fraud offences, which are all recorded by Action Fraud, based in the City of London Police. Also the figures for England exclude Greater Manchester Police, which was unable to supply its data.
Additionally, various crimes that are not reported to and recorded by the police are not captured in this data.
While police data is usually quite good at recording the prevalence of crimes which are usually reported (low-frequency serious crimes like homicide or violence), it is not very good at measuring the true prevalence of crimes which are less frequently reported (like thefts).
Why did crime rise faster in London last year?
The increase in crime in London is not uniform across different types of offence. For example, over the past year, while homicides increased by 23% in London compared to 8% across England, violence against the person in general increased by 2% in London compared to 7% across England.
Over the past year, sexual offences recorded by police in London fell by 2% while in England they remained flat. But robbery increased by 16% in London compared to 6% across England.
However, the increase in London over the past year was largely driven by an increase in theft offences, which include burglary. Theft is stealing from a person without the use or threat of force, robbery is stealing by using force or the threat of force on someone and burglary is entering a property illegally in order to steal.
Theft offences account for 50% of the Metropolitan Police’s recorded crimes and increased by 4% last year. Across England they fell 5%.
Over the longer period the trend is similar. Since 2016, the number of police recorded theft offences per person has increased by 23% in London, compared to a rise of 7% in England more widely.
Problems with police recorded crime figures
It’s difficult to know the extent to which these figures reflect real changes in the level of crime, or changes in how likely people in different parts of the country are to report different crimes, and how likely individual police forces are to record them.
There is evidence that some police forces are better at recording crime than others. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services carries out data inspections of police forces to assess how well each records crime.
Unfortunately they are not published regularly enough to allow us to see whether the Metropolitan Police’s recording of theft offences may have improved more over the past year compared to other forces.
The last report for the Metropolitan Police was conducted in 2018. It was rated as “good” but noted that “the force is currently under-recording some offences against property (for example theft and damage).”
Also, even if forces were recording theft offences equally, there are likely to always be a significant number of crimes like theft that they cannot record because they are not reported by victims to the police.
In part, because of this, the Office for National Statistics says the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) is better than police recorded crime for measuring long-term trends in the more common types of crime, such as theft.
The crime survey data is not split out by region, however, so we can’t examine whether a rise in police recorded crime in London is reflected in a rise of crime more generally.
But at a national level, the ONS says: “Following a short-term rising trend, Crime Survey for England and Wales overall theft offences have decreased to similar levels seen three years ago.”
The overall estimate for crime based on this survey also decreased last year.
So ultimately, while recorded crime increased more in London than in the rest of England last year, this may tell us more about improvements in police recording practices and the willingness of victims to come forward than the true level of crime which, at a national level at least, appears to be falling.