Are the Metropolitan Police ignoring half of all crimes?

16 July 2013

"Half of all crimes are not investigated because police focus on cases that are 'a priority for them and not victims'" Daily Mail, 16 July 2013

"Almost half of crimes 'ignored' by police" Greater London Authority Conservatives, 16 July 2013

A Freedom of Information request sent out by the Conservative GLA Member Roger Evans has unearthed a series of figures on the number of crimes in London that are "screened out" by the police.

However while the Mail and the Conservative group in the GLA have claimed that this means that large numbers of crimes are being "ignored", the Met Police has said that this is "incorrect". So what do these figures show?

What happens when a crime is "screened out"?

Once a crime is reported, says the Met Police, officers are required to carry out an initial investigation, potentially involving the interviewing of witnesses, reviewing the scene and the CCTV footage as well as looking at "all other available evidence". The reported incident is then logged in the MPS crime recording system and the alleged victim is issued with a crime reference number.

What follows is an "investigative assessment", which takes into account:

  • The seriousness of the reported offence
  • The likelihood of solvability (e.g. availability of evidence)
  • The level of resources required proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.

If a reported incident meets these criteria, it is then "screened in" and passed on for further investigation. If not, it is "screened out", and no further action  is immediately taken.

According to the MPS:

"This does not mean that the crime is not important or permanently closed as the MPS will keep all details on record and refer to the report when investigating other related crimes or trying to identify stolen property. The information you provide forms a vital part in deciding where and when to allocate police resources."

The complete minimum standards expected of a primary investigation are set out in this 2011 FOI response on Primary and Secondary Investigation of Crime.

The police are 'screening out' 45% of crimes - what does that mean?

"If you are a thief in London," says Roger Evans "you can rest assured that over three quarters of your crimes, reported by victims, will be ignored by police."

The accuracy of this statement depends on what type of theft Mr. Evans is referring to, as although car thefts are "screened out" in 76% of cases, shoplifters are only seeing 29% of their alleged crimes not attract police interest. In fact, if we look at all theft offences, around 7 in 10 reported incidents are screened out, which isn't "over three quarters".

The full figures unearthed by the FoI are shown below:

The Met might therefore have a point in arguing that those crimes which are screened out are not "ignored", as they will nevertheless be subject to an initial investigation. Just last year the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that decisions by the Metropolitan Police to close an incident and record a crime were correct in 88% of the cases reviewed.

On the other hand, the MPS has pledged to improve "the quality and rigour of initial investigations" and to offer a personal visit "to any victim of crime who requests it", perhaps suggesting that the force recognises that there is a gap in certain instances between what the public expects when it reports a crime and what it currently receives.


Flickr image courtesy of brizzle born and bred

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