Wednesday, 8 May 2013

It's a Mystery

Crime is falling, but we don't why. This was the theme of a piece in The Observer a week ago by Andrew Rawnsley:- 

Here is some good news for nearly everyone. Crime is falling. Murder is down. Violent crime generally is down. Property crime is down. In fact, almost every category of criminality that you can think of is declining. Here is the even better news. This is not a blip. The downward trend is now very well established and can be traced back over many years. And here is the funniest bit of this news. No one is really sure why. Those who think of themselves as experts on the causes of crime confess to being nonplussed. The majority of them predicted that a prolonged economic squeeze could only lead to more crime. They are scratching their heads trying to figure out why the opposite is happening.

The article goes on to recount the many and varied theories advanced to explain the phenomenon, together with the discomfort experienced by criminologists, politicians and others including the police, each of whom have had cherished theories demolished or dented at various times. Andrew concludes the article by confirming that we really don't know why crime is falling. 

I find this conclusion really satisfying in many ways, especially given the nature of probation work. Despite all the endeavours of very bright people some, if not many, aspects of human behaviour simply continue to defy scientific or other explanation. For me it confirms the idiocy of OASys and the myth that it works. In fact it's vastly time consuming and gets in the way of trying to understand clients, but I digress. 

Anyway, the piece drew quite a response, including the point made by regular reader and retired probation officer Mike Guilfoyle that probation just might have played it's part in reducing crime:- 

Andrew Rawnsley's thoughtful overview of the putative reasons behind the welcome overall reductions in the crime figures have, he notes, confounded criminologists and policy-makers ("A crime mystery. It's going down, but no one really knows why", Comment). His piece did, however, omit any reference to the attested success of the probation service over recent years in contributing to reducing reoffending. Ministry of Justice data between 2000 and 2010 demonstrates reductions in adult reoffending of over 3%.

However further contributors went on to seriously dent this good news story by pointing out that violent crime might be falling, but other offences were flourishing, such as fraudulent behaviour, business crime and violence in the home. In fact this view is confirmed by Marian Fitzgerald and quoted in this recent piece, also from the Observer:- 

Claims that Britain has never been safer are misleading, according to a study that accuses the government of massaging official crime figures. It alleges that the Home Office is promoting statistics knowing they do not include some of the fastest-rising forms of online crime, making figures significantly lower than the true crime rate.
Marian FitzGerald, a visiting professor of criminology at the crime and justice centre, University of Kent, said the government's decision to exclude credit card fraud from the Crime Survey for England and Walesmeant talk of an overall fall in crime was "illusory" at best and deceptive at worst.
The last survey figures reveal reductions in almost every category, a trend that allowed former policing minister Nick Herbert to say that crime had continued to fall despite the challenge of reduced police budgets and "give the lie to the spurious claim that there is a simple link between overall police numbers and the crime rate".
However FitzGerald told senior police officers and policymakers last week that a preoccupation with reducing crime figures year-on-year had meant that the official figures had excluded new types of crime. "The police service has been driven for nearly 15 years by the imperative to demonstrate year-on-year reductions in crime. So it has developed a mindset which is resistant to recognising new types of crime, such as card fraud and the many scams perpetrated over the internet, and has been more than happy for the Home Office to absolve it of taking any responsibility for them."
The article goes on to catalogue the explosion in internet-based crime such as theft from online bank accounts which goes largely unreported to the police. If confirmation was ever needed that criminal behaviour continually evolves and adapts:-  
Fitzgerald added: "New opportunities have opened up on an unprecedented scale for property crime and for many other types of crime. Arguably the internet has also massively increased the scale of psychological violence from what was previously possible.
"This, obviously, poses significant challenges for politicians – in particular those associated with the previous government, who took the credit for the fall in crime and repeatedly told the public that they were safer than since records began."
So, some crime is falling, some crime is rising and some crime goes unreported. It's pretty much what we've known all along - oh and that you certainly can't trust politicians with figures of any sort - full stop.
Sign the No10 petition here.   


  1. The quotes, below, are by Marian Fitzgerald and add further to the points you have already highlighted. It is pretty clear she is one criminologist who is not mystified.

    "First of all it keeps saying 'isn't it amazing that despite the recession violence has gone down'. Actually, any serous criminologist knows that violence goes down in a recession because most violence is relatively low-level violence and most of it is associated with the late-night economy," she said. "So when people don't have money to go out, get tanked up, start having fights, violence goes down.

    "The other flaw in this is... they said that they took as their starting point in this as 2003 because the rules on how you counted crime changed at that point.

    "What they don't seem to have understood is that those changes meant there was an artificial spike in crime in 2003."

    1. Thanks for that - much appreciated.

  2. Yes, all of that is true, but regardless there is clear evidence of year on year decreases. The Spirit Level explains how countries with greatest equality in their societies have the best social outcomes, such as low crime rates. In the UK at present I think there is a belief that almost everyone is doing badly, and that might have some impact on overall crime rates. See link for more discussion...

    1. Thanks for that and best wishes for the blog. I've just noticed your piece from March and it made me chuckle!

      "If you haven’t seen Jim Brown’s ‘On Probation’ blog yet, then do so. The link is here and it’s an excellent critique of the grumpiness involved in becoming ‘practice wise’. Jim is from the ‘old school’, and I’m guessing that even by his own admission he’s probably not the most innovative of Probation Officers. He relies on what he knows is effective and does not ‘innovate’ because he already knows what works with people. In new money we might call Jim’s practice wisdom ‘pro-social modeling’, ‘motivational interviewing‘ or even a ‘desistance strategy’. In Jim’s old shillings and pence we call this wisdom ‘building a relationship’ with clients (although he would undoubtedly argue that his methods are a great deal more nuanced and strategic than that). It’s just that these days we’ve had to get scientific in explaining why and how it works.