Did crime rates just double overnight?

22 July 2016

Crime figures just got a lot bigger, and a lot more complicated.

New figures released this week showed that there were an estimated 6.3 million incidents of crime against adults in England and Wales in the year leading up to March 2016.

These are routine figures from the Crime Survey—which measures crime as it is experienced and recounted by adult victims—as opposed to separate figures which are gathered directly by the police. New numbers are released every three months, and the latest estimate shows that the long-term fall in this kind of crime is continuing.

But now, for the first time, the Survey also includes questions about fraud and ‘cybercrime’ - such as when someone’s computer gets infected by a virus, or when people’s personal information is hacked into.

There were an estimated 5.8 million incidents of fraud and cybercrime over the same period—almost as many as all the other forms of crime which are already covered by the Survey.

Next year, these figures are going to be incorporated into the main Crime Survey estimates. So some reports have said that the crime rate is set to double.

What will this do to the crime rate?

The ‘headline estimate’ of crime in England and Wales, according to the Crime Survey, is going to shoot up when these new kinds of incidents are added.

This obviously doesn’t mean crime is going to double. Fraud and computer crime has been happening for a long time, we’ve just found a new way to measure some of it.

The ONS says that:

"it would be wrong to conclude that actual crime levels have doubled, since the survey previously did not cover these offences. These improvements to the Crime Survey will help to measure the scale of the threat from these crimes, and help shape the response.”

Crime figures will look like they’ve gone up a lot, but that’s just because we’re recording new kinds that we weren’t before. We’ll also have more comprehensive figures for fraud and cybercrime by then - once the survey questions have been asked for a full year.

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