Crime May Not Be Falling At All

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/163144/story-prison-population.pdf.pdf

The number of people in prison has more or less doubled since 1993.  Police recorded crime has more or less halved in this period.  The linked document gives some of the reasons for the rise in the prison population.  The only one that seems to matter is that courts are trying more serious offences against the person.

One can understand that creeps in prison have less chance to commit crimes against us and so crime might drop, but wouldn’t we expect the drop in crime to lead to lower volumes through courts and caution systems at some point?  In some ways one might expect declining crime to lead to a declining prison population, those on probation, doing community service and so on.  One might also expect the recidivist population to decline too.  Judging on what happens in the courts this isn’t true.

In 2011/2012 68,100 out of 108,119 offenders with more than 15 previous convictions, some 62.9%, received a penalty other than prison. This was compared to 49,729 in 2006/07, an increase of 38%.

So with crime declining year on year the prison population and the numbers of recidivists getting non-custodial sentences is rising.  The number of convictions offenders have is rising a lot too, with 44% having 15 or more on the rap sheet.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/162610/criminal-justice-stats-dec-2011.pdf.pdf

There has been a fall in out of court disposals (cautions, fixed penalties).  I don’t get fussy about precision until I think I have a correlation model.  I can’t get past the notion that a real fall in crime should lead to a fall in criminals being convicted.  Clearly this may not be a straightforward relation, as banging up recidivists might well reduce crime while the useless creeps are banged up.

I know police crime stats are juked – they always were.  All developed countries show a big drop since around 2000 and no doubt nodding, skewing, cuffing and fitting play a role.  Performance management itself has been on the rise in the public sector and a lot of pressure is put on the people doing it year on year.  One of my old universities simply lied on the employment figures for its graduates (it was me who taught the poor sod with no data how to do this – pick a figure just above the national average and work the spreadsheet backwards – they still do this).

The way police figures are going we will have no crime in 12 years.  One would suspect there must be a point at which the prisons would be empty of all but lifers and the few bobbies left fighting over rescuing kittens from trees.  This, of course, isn’t going to happen.

With crime down roughly 50% it seems amazing our cops have got so good at finding it that they are still getting as many crooks as ever in front of the courts or other means of disposal – after all you might think they would only have half the opportunities to spot bodies to nick.  My own thief taking was pretty random and I suspect would have dropped more than half with only half the opportunities (one gives up through boredom) – at least in uniform.  So where does the steady stream of jail fodder come from and why do they have more convictions than ever on arrest?

If we have more criminals committing less crime one would expect them to have fewer convictions on arrest.  Given the idiots who commit most crime we might expect doubling the prison population to reduce crime by 50% – though this assumes one scumbag is not simply replaced by another.  On this “model” doubling the prison population again would more or less eradicate crime.

Criminals inside don’t commit crime in society – that’s rock solid.  So twice as many locked up might be a fit with a 50% reduction in crime.  But what is the relation between the actual criminal population size and the relevant prison population?  I doubt we ever have half of them banged up.  Say it’s one in ten and we double that.  All of a sudden the ratios collapse in any simple form – we still have 80% of them in society instead of 90% – so crime would drop only 10% or so on the simple model.  Of course, those left among us might be substantially deterred – but we should remember recidivists are slow learners if they learn at all.

Remember, many corporations increase profits and top manager earnings simply through accounting devices and tax stealing through offshore transfer pricing and offshoring jobs to gain global wage arbitrage.  Police accounting is quite possibly as bent.

It makes sense to me that the availability of criminals to bang up and otherwise dispose of (I like the term ‘dispose’) is because there is plenty of crime.  There is certainly enough for the criminals themselves to have bigger rap sheets than in the past (up from 9 convictions to 15 in a few years).

One needs a dynamic model of crime to know whether it is going up or down.  I work with statistics for a living and intend no unpaid overtime here.  The production of a decent model is someone else’s job.  i’d want paying.  The question is why some overpaid ex-student of mine in some government department or criminologist hasn’t produced such a model.  There will be work comparing police recorded crime with the British Crime Survey – but both of these are subject to abuse, the latter done on the cheap.

There is clearly a point at which, if crime is really falling, there will be few criminals left to catch and a fall in jail numbers and those in front of courts or otherwise disposed.  This is obvious before we get clever with numbers.  In the States they’ve been jailing people for fun, personal profit and generally being black or brown.  Their cops have been reducing crime figures for years too and their prison population is four or five times ours – without reaching the obvious mutual decline above.

I don’t know at this stage what I would include in a crime model spreadsheet – what I have in mind would render the BCS obsolete and be much cheaper.  Essentially we need to correlate police figures with courts, jails, probation and money estimates of crime.  We could create an online BCS-type check.  Anyway no one is paying me so I’ll just say my guess from police, court/other disposal and jail figures is that 43 chief constables are lying to us about crime.  And the government is wasting loads of our money producing useless figures.

We should really expect crime to rise because of austerity, pressure on welfare and immigration (French cops hate Romanians).  I’ve used approximations here,  but what I’m saying in principle holds.

I’d take recording crime out of police hands – after all its mostly clerical-routine – this would partly stop the gaming-juking – but also improve service delivery.  I don’t normally like privatisation but a bit of customer choice might be good on ringing the law.  Nah! Scrap that – they’d start trying to sell us life insurance.  We could try something like this:

http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/351275/1/13socm09_ByrneEvans.pdf

Crime might just be down because we have most of the prolific offenders in prison – if this is the case we’d expect it hard for cops to reduce crime much further.  A pile of considerations can be found here:

http://www.sastudyoffending.org.uk/Journal2006.pdf#page=34

The latest ONS – in which I discovered BS is now CSEW is here and says the crime drop is real:

http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?as_ylo=2013&q=british+crime+figures&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5

The ONS work does point to some of the problems in believing police recorded crime from a different tack than Steve Bennett.  While it isn’t hard to believe crime will fall by banging crooks up, we need more sophisticated analysis.  I’d start by asking the criminals.  I know they are lying bastards but there are ways.  That and the cops on the line.  A small straw poll suggests criminal activity is moving – from burglary (too risky) to borrowing from shops and stealing cash in public places.

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2 thoughts on “Crime May Not Be Falling At All

  1. One hypothesis for falling crime rates that bears looking at is the one which links environmental poisons to crime rates. Specifically, banning leaded petrol fuel seems to give a drop in the numbers of criminals about a decade and a half later, and this can be correlated quite well because different US states banned leaded gasoline at different times. If this holds true for a lot of other environmental toxins, then the modern trend towards attempting to make the environment as free of persistent toxins as possible may be leading to a reduction in the numbers of potential criminals.

    The US is an outlier in one other way: their population is weirdly skewed because of the black ex-slave population, and because the American attitude to narcotic drugs is paranoid, puritanical and barking in a lot of different ways. A relaxation of the prohibition on narcotics would likely lead to a lot of the more susceptible addicts here and in the US overdosing on cheap opium (manufacturers are unlikely to bother to purify opiates to heroin once the market becomes a free and fair one; producing crude laudanum is easier and sells just as well) and taking themselves out of the crime figures.

    • A lot to agree with Dan. I can see a useful spreadsheet could be put together and include variations as you suggest. I don’t really take our standard definitions of crime seriously. Personally I feel much more affected by the crimes of politicians, banksters and corporations are their murders across the world than those we junk to prison.

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