Yesterday's crime figures show that sex crime recorded by the police has increased by 32%, rape by 40% and violence against the person by 21%. A recent House of Commons library report showed child sex abuse up by 60% in four years and, in relation to this crime, arrests and prosecutions going down. Why, then does Theresa May claim today that crime is falling?
The truth is that it isn't and the measure she uses - the Crime Survey of England and Wales - records less than 70% of crime and misses out the growing ones, like all the sex offences listed above. May's argument that crime is decreasing is her excuse for further cuts to the police budget and it is flawed in two ways. Crime is not falling and police work of all kinds is increasing.
If there are thousands of reasons why anyone who cares about public services must vote out the Tories in May, a key one is to stop May, who has amply demonstrated her dislike of the police, from further demolishing forces and putting the safety of our communities at risk.
Since 2010, like other forces, Northumbria Police has seen drastic cuts. 26% of its funding, 15% of police and 37% of staff are gone. The Tories say they will cut another 5% a year until 2020. In other words, they'll take out the same again. 84% of the costs of policing is for the people employed and most forces have now exhausted every other means of saving. In five years time, Northumbria will have fewer than 2600 officers instead of the current 3600. No problem, says Theresa May.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) asks households if they have suffered offences and found 11% fewer crime this year. However, the CSEW does not count homicide nor any sexual offences, nor people trafficking, nor cybercrime, nor fraud, nor forced marriage nor "honour"- based crimes, nor shoplifting, nor business crime and it doesn't count "victimless" crimes like possessing drugs. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/year-ending-september-2014/sty-stock-take-of-crime-statistics.html
There are historic and other reasons for this and no criticism of the CSEW. It is moving forward and expects to record cybercrime next year, predicted to produce a huge figure, in itself.
31% of crime types - almost a third - is not counted by the CSEW, the most obvious of which is child sexual exploitation. The Tories are in a strange position. At their Child Sexual Exploitation Summit, shortly before Parliament ended, they rightly gave £7M extra to voluntary sector victims' support groups, whose workload has surged through a 60% increase in reporting, whilst relying, for purposes of counting crime and funding police, on the CSEW which doesn't register that this abuse exists.
It is everybody's view since the Alexis Jay, Anne Coffey and Louise Casey reports that the current increase in reporting abuse is just the tip of the iceberg. Child Sexual Exploitation is endemic, but children do not call the police to report it, investigators have to seek it out.
In Newcastle, there is Operation Sanctuary, comprising undercover work, covert surveillance and a vast marketing programme, so that the community will recognise the signs of abuse and is encouraged to pass on information. Police have uncovered and charged 103 rapes or related crimes.
The cost in officer time has been enormous, far higher than the average cost of charging 103 "traditional" crimes as the CSEW calls offences like burglary. That means that the undoubted fact that 'traditional' crimes are continuing to decline is only a very partial picture of demand on policing, which is otherwise steeply increasing through the emergence of huge numbers of more complex and difficult cases, often affecting our most vulnerable people.
Every such case requires an assessment of safeguarding in addition to core investigation and child sexual exploitation is only one aspect. Forces such as Northumbria have worked hard to encourage reporting of all kinds of abuse .Rape figures there show a 141% increase since 2009-10 with 23% more domestic crimes in the same period. The more the police work to build confidence the harder they work - on an increase in cases of a kind simply not counted by the CSEW
As the College of Policing confirms: "The level of demand on police resources has not reduced... complex crimes such as child abuse and domestic violence are understandably taking up more police time."
The other flaw in the Home Secretary's police-cutting logic is that in addition to a qualitative change in the nature of crime, the majority of officer time is not spent on criminal work at all. Only 12% of contacts to Northumbria Police concern crime. Almost a fifth are about anti-social behaviour, going up by about 1300 incidents a year. Over half of calls are about public safety and welfare, including 23 missing person incidents a day, up 47% compared to 2009-10 at an average cost per case of £1,325, totalling £9.46M a year or 214 officers full time. There are 82 domestic abuse reports each day, mostly not producing crimes but totalling over 29,000 incidents a year. There are about 30 mental health incidents daily and, last year, almost 2000 times when police had to help out with ambulance calls.
Add to this higher numbers of demonstrations by English Defence League and opponents; industrial action up due to spending cuts; road accidents, stops and searches and managing violent offenders in the community (up by 31% since 2009-10) and add too the rise in the terrorism threat. 88% of day to day core police business and thousands of officer hours are not spent cracking crime but on keeping people safe. Almost every aspect of this work is increasing and in addition there is a growing element of 'service drift' like referrals to police as cuts force the ending of local authority services like noise abatement.
The sworn duties of a constable under the Crown, require them to be responsible for the protection of life and property, maintenance of order, prevention and detection of crime and prosecution of offenders against the peace. We need therefore to make clear that when the Tories suggest that crime is diminishing and police are less needed, it is untrue. Any more cuts risk leaving our most vulnerable to live with abuse without help and the thousands of members of the public who seek police support without anyone to aid them.
Former Solicitor General, Vera Baird QC