Are foreign nationals leading a surge in crime?

13 September 2012

Today we were told by the Daily Express that there is a surge in crime thanks to the foreign nationals living here. 

This is just months after it was reported that nation-wide, crime rates have actually declined.

The headline, "Migrants blamed for surge in crime," relates to a series of figures obtained by the Birmingham Mail via a Freedom of Information request directed at local police forces. The story was also picked up by the Daily Telegraph, but just what can we conclude from these stories?

Let's have a look at some key claims reported:

  • "Crimes committed by those born abroad has increased by 53 per cent." (This appeared in the Daily Telegraph).
  • West Midlands Police picked up 11,801 suspects between April 2011 and March this year.
  • Of these 2,629 were for violent offences, a rise of over 600 from the previous 12 months. The number detained for sex offences rose from 271 to almost 400. Robbery and burglary arrests more than doubled from 493 to 1,019.
  • In West Mercia, 1,991 foreigners were held in the last 12 months — 26 per cent up on the 1,559 quizzed during the previous period.

It is impossible to assess whether the claims made in the paper are accurate without more data and a copy of the original FOI response sent out by the police forces.  But there are still question marks about some of the conclusions drawn by the two papers.

Let's break a few of them down.

First of all, it is not fair to say crimes committed by foreign nationals have gone up by 53%. It'd be more accurate to state that the detention of foreign nationals has gone up by that proportion, and only then in the area of the West Midlands. 

Indeed, none of the numbers quoted reflect a national trend, but relate strictly to a specific region or regions. Though the Daily Express goes on to detail this, pointing to the number of foreigners held in by the police constabulary of West Marcia and in Devon and Cornwall as well as the West Midlands, we don't know that this is symptomatic of a "soaring migrant crimewave" nationwide.

A quick glance at the official figures reveals that as a nation we have in fact experienced a considerable fall in crime. Crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales have fallen by 4.2% in the period between March 2011 and March 2012. The Express headline in particular - "Migrants blamed for surge in crime" - could also leave the reader with the impression that crime rates are rising. In fact, the opposite is true.

Headlines such as these might help to explain why the public perception has been that crime has risen, as was found last year by the Crime Survey, despite the evidence to the contrary.

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