West Yorkshire Police was sharply criticised last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) for recording robbery and violence offences wrongly and inappropriately labelling some rape offences as ‘no-crimes’.
Temporary chief constable Dee Collins told The Yorkshire Post that the force has since carried out “educating and awareness raising” among its officers and staff about how they should deal with offences when they are recorded.
Between January and April the force recorded 16.5 per cent more crimes than in the same period last year, though Miss Collins says the vast majority of the rise is due to a change in recording practice, rather than more crimes being committed.
But the Police Federation, which represents local officers, says better recording is not the main reason for the rise and that the loss of hundreds of officers means the force is less able to deter offenders from committing crime.
The county’s police and crime commissioner said the rise was largely because of changes in recording practices but said Government funding cuts were “bound to have a considerable impact on the organisation”.
West Yorkshire Police was among a number across the country to be criticised last year for the way it recorded certain crimes. HMIC inspectors looked at 260 incident records from between November 2012 and October 2013 and decided that of these, 221 should have been classed as crimes, but only 150 were.
On rape offences the report says: “Of the 35 no-crime records we examined, 23 met the requirement of the Home Office Counting Rules. This is unacceptable.”
It added that officers saw it as acceptable to class incidents as “non-crimes” to avoid extra work, that possible cases of sexual offences were not recognised as crimes, and that too many crimes were being dealt with out of court.
Nationally, it emerged that more than 800,000, or one in five, of all crimes reported to the police each year were not being recorded by officers,
Miss Collins said the force were told to “look very carefully” at the way it recorded crimes after police both locally and nationally were “found wanting” by HMIC.
She said: “For very many of those cases, the case management process was in place, but we weren’t necessarily dealing with it as a crime, we were dealing with it as an incident. That is a really important point to make.
“But there were also some crimes where we had not recorded things at all. Here in West Yorkshire, I took the decision that in the first instance we needed to understand what does that mean for us a force.
“We certainly needed to embark on some educating and awareness raising, not just for ourselves, but our partners as well, as to what this actually meant. It means that now the minute an issue is reported to us by a potential victim, we record that crime.
“It may well be that the victim, once we start to explore those issues, explore those circumstances, for example they might be mistaken, or the crime they originally thought was reported actually turns out to be a different crime, but we still make sure we record that as opposed to just generating an incident.
“That is quite a culture change for us. The impact of that you are starting to see in terms of our West Yorkshire Police recording figures.”
According to a report by West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner from earlier this month, there was a 12.3 per cent rise in total crime and a 26 per cent rise in domestic burglary between January and March compared with the same period in 2014.
In the the year to December, recorded crime was down by one per cent, despite 27 other police force areas seeing an increase in total crime over the same period.
Miss Collins said she was not “unduly surprised” by a rise in recorded crime from January as awareness training began in October.
She said: “What matters, I think, most, is how do we explain that to the public, in that it is about recording practice, rather than a genuine increase in crime. But we have just undertaken a big piece of work to satisfy ourselves, is that the case?
“From January to April we have seen a roundabout 16.5 per cent increase, on the same period last year, around 15 per cent of that we are pretty confident is down to recording practice. So there is a one per cent increase in crime.
“When we have dug into that, you may not be surprised that is around an increase in reporting of violent/sexual offences or crimes, because we have had a lot of publicity, we have worked very hard to encourage members of the public to come and report things to us.”
She said: “What has happened in the past, the first thing is that we had a rule that said you didn’t formally have to put a crime report in until 72 hours, so that meant officers were going out and understandably having a good look at those reported incidents, and making a determination about whether a crime had taken place or not.
“What would happen now is that we would record it as a crime, do an investigation, and if it isn’t a crime we put a report in saying it is not.
“It feels very bureaucratic, and officers are understandably finding it quite difficult if you end up with the same result, but at least that way we have a very accurate record of that process, whereas before it wasn’t so transparent.”
She said part of the issue was officers not understanding when they should categorise something as a crime, or not providing a detailed enough explanation when changing the code given to an offence.
She added: “So on one hand you will have a process issue, that was influencing things. I think what you are really asking me is, did some officers not record anything at all, I can’t say one way or the other.”
Nick Smart of West Yorkshire’s Police Federation said the more accurate recording of crime was “not the only, or even the main reason” for a rise in recorded crime.
He said: “The main reason crime is up, such as burglary and violent crime, is quite simply there are fewer officers, over 1,000 less or approximately 20 per cent, to pro-actively stop offenders and deter them from committing crime.
“And it will get worse as we lose more and more officers over the next few years due to misguided Government cutbacks. The public are therefore at a greater risk of becoming victims of crime.
“The cuts to WYP police mean we are going back to a 1980s reactive style of policing where we simply respond to calls.
“Neighbourhood officers are primarily reduced to answering the increase in calls for service rather than pro-actively engaging with communities and crime prevention. Demand is outstripping resources.
“Look at drink-driving offences or drugs offences. Both are down. Why? Is it because less people are drink driving or taking drugs? No. It is because we do not have the officers or capacity to be as pro-active and have them patrolling as visible deterrent.
“There is an absolute direct correlation between having fewer police officers to patrol and prevent, and the ongoing increase in crime. All cops know this. The public need to know this. Politicians need to stop this erosion of policing within WYP”.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “It is very important that crime is recorded in the right way so our communities can have confidence that the published crime statistics are correct. I very much welcome the measures the force has put in place following the report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
“Crime has gone up and that is certainly largely in part because of the changes in recording practices implemented.
“It must also be remembered, however, that West Yorkshire Police has had to endure massive Government cuts to the budget with £163.5m taken out of policing here in West Yorkshire and that is bound to have a considerable impact on the organisation.
“I am doing everything I can to work with the police and other partners to keep communities safe and feeling safe and to keep the crime statistics as low as possible.”