How important are police stations for reporting crime?
"[Karen Buck MP] says that front counters are important for reporting crime, but only one in eight crimes are reported that way, so they are not as important as they used to be."
Damian Green, Policing Minister, 10 June 2013
The Mayor of London's plan to save money by closing some public-facing police stations proved controversial in Parliament yesterday, as MPs appealed to the Policing Minister Damian Green to either back or block the proposals.
Coming out in favour of Boris Johnson's initiative, Mr Green pointed out to objectors that just one in eight crimes are brought to police attention via the front desk of the police station. Is this accurate?
The claim featured recently in a number of different newspapers after the think tank Policy Exchange published a report on police reform. While the one in eight figure wasn't in the report itself, it did appear in the accompanying press release.
So where have the figures come from? A look through the Metropolitan Police Service's Freedom of Information logs unearths the data that appears to have been used.
Is the claim accurate?
In 2011/12, 966,789 crimes were recorded by the Met police, of which 122,493 were brought to the service's attention via the front desk of a police station. As the chart below shows, this represents just shy of 13% of the total, around one in eight.
While reporting a crime at a police station is the second most popular means of alerting the police to a potential offence, it lags quite a distance behind phoning a report in, which accounted for over two thirds of all cases.
A word of caution
There are a few points that are worth bearing in mind with these figures. Firstly, they apply to London alone, and while the Policing Minister's remarks took place during a discussion about police stations in the capital, this isn't explicitly mentioned in Hansard.
We don't know how representative Londoners' use of police stations is of the country as a whole, and we would need more data before we could judge the overall picture nationwide. We've asked both the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers if this information is available, but haven't yet seen any figures. We'll be submitting FOIs to the other 42 police forces in Engalnd and Wales to fill in these gaps.
From whose perspective?
Even the data we do have can be viewed in different ways. For instance, some crimes are alerted to the police by the public while others are detected directly by the police themselves.
From the police's point of view, one in eight recorded crimes are brought to its attention via police stations. But from the public's point of view (factoring out the police's own discoveries), one in seven cases they report is done so via a police station.
Similarly, the relative importance of a police station isn't uniform across all offence groups. In fact, the importance of police stations in reporting crime increases when you look at more serious crimes.
Looking at the Met's FoI response, around one in six violent or sexual offences were reported via police stations. Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter might therefore have had a point when he asked the Police Minister yesterday:
"does the Minister seriously expect them to report serious crimes such as rape and sexual abuse in their post office or in Tesco?"
According to the best available data we have, around one in eight crimes recorded by the Metropolitan Police were brought to their attention by a member of the public via the front desk of a police station. Understood in this context, the Policing Minister's claim is correct.
However it is worth bearing in mind that it's not always the case that a member of the public is responsible for alerting police to a possible crime, and if we look solely at those offences reported by the public, the relative popularity of using police stations is greater. It does likewise if we look exclusively at more serious crimes, such as violence against the person or sexual offences.
We also don't know how London compares to the rest of the country, so can't yet judge how typical the capital is. We're in the process of submitting Freedom of Information requests to the other 42 police forces in England and Wales which might help us better understand what's going on at a national level.