A highly critical report into the way Northamptonshire Police record crime has revealed incidents are being downgraded to make them easier to record.
The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies also revealed that, over the last three years, 35 rapes, violent assaults and robberies had been incorrectly recorded as ‘no crime’.
It showed that information about a victim’s lifestyle was used to undermine the credibility of the report of their crime, and that one crime was not recorded because an officer said the victim ‘could be a compulsive liar’.
And inspectors also discovered that officers believed they had been incorrectly encouraged to record crime only once an investigation confirmed that a crime had been committed, rather than at the point of reporting.
Now the force has been ordered to make immediate improvements to its systems.
Today’s report detailed the integrity of the way in which crime was recorded between November 2012 and October 2013. Inspectors visited Northamptonshire Police and spoke to staff during their inspection.
Their shocking findings reveal a catalogue of failings and demands for improvements in several areas.
It’s summary says: “Immediately, the force should ensure that its crime-recording policy is fully compliant with National Crime Recording Standard and Home Office Counting Rules.
“The force has introduced a new crime-recording policy. However a number of managers who had vital roles in dealing with crime reports, told us they had not seen this document nor were they aware of its existence.”
The inspectors examined 106 incident records from the force control room computer system. Of the records they looked at, they found 82 crimes should have been recorded but only 65 were. Of those 65, four were wrongly classified and five were recorded outside the allowed 72-hour limit.
The report stated: “It means some victims’ crimes are not being recorded and they are not getting the service they deserve because, for example, certain victim support services are only triggered when a crime is recorded.”
Of 105 reports recorded separately on other force systems, 28 crimes should have been recorded, but only one was. The report said: “It is extremely concerning that the reports reviewed on this system had not been recorded properly as a crime - including serious sexual offences, domestic abuse and offences against children committed by adults.
“This is a matter that should be rectified by the force urgently.”
In cases where an incident was initially recorded as a crime but was subsequently found not to be a crime, it is recorded as a ‘no-crime’.
The inspector said: “We examined 90 no-crime records and found 55 records to be compliant with HOCR and NCRS. As the no-crime records we reviewed related to offences of rape, robbery and violence, this is a matter of serious concern.
“Frequently we found that information about a victim of their lifestyle was used to undermine the credibility of the report of the crime.
“In some cases the version of events described by the offender was used to contradict the victim’s account and justify a no-crime decision.
“Without additional verifiable information this demonstrates a lack of regard for the victim.”
A force crime registrar (FCR) is responsible for ensuring crime is reported properly, and only seven people in the force have the authority to record an incident as ‘no-crime.’
The report continues: “The FCR personally reviews every rape crime which is to be no-crimed.
“Despite this, we found that some of the explanations placed on rape crime reports used to support the no-criming of those reports, contained extremely concerning comments and language which was used to justify highly questionable decisions.
“Examples included a case where the victim was described as ‘could be a compulsive liar’ which was deemed sufficient to submit for consideration for a no-crime and cases where the account of the suspect was used to discredit the victim and support a no-crime decision.”
The force has now been told to immediately adopt a new approach.
When inspectors spoke to managers, they were told that officers don’t understand the need to keep victims updated. They also said that out-of-court methods of disposal are widely regarded as a quick way of removing crimes from officer workloads.
Inspectors also discovered that staff were concerned about the effect of austerity cuts on crime recording accuracy.
The report said: “Officers currently are required to telephone the control room when recording a serious crime.
“As a result of a shortage of staff in the control room answering these calls, officers are classifying crimes wrongly in order to get them recorded automatically using an electronic form. This is because this form should only be used to record less serious crimes.
“During the inspection we were told of robbery crimes being recorded, by officers using this system, as a less serious matter of theft from the person to achieve swifter recording of the details.”
The report adds that frontline staff do not understand the conduct expected when recording crime. It adds: “This is directly as a result of the force’s ‘investigate-to-record’ policy which has been widely interpreted by officers as a signal that discretion can be used in deciding whether a crime should be recorded.
“We were advised that superintendents and senior officers regularly pressurise those making crime-recording decisions to record only the minimum number of crimes where multiple victims are involved.”
In reponse to the report, Chief Constable Adrian Lee said: “It is crucial that crime is recorded correctly and ethically and for the public to have confidence that we are improving our service to victims and I welcome today’s report.
“Since the HMIC inspection the force has implemented robust processes to ensure crimes are correctly recorded; our approach and auditing have changed
substantially to address concerns and deficiencies.
“Processes have been implemented to ensure incidents are correctly classified and any reported crimes are recorded in line with the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR).
“The report included positive feedback about how we deal with out-of-court disposals and our compliance rate with national standards. Our training programmes and recent process improvements were well received.
“The public can be confident that we are improving our service to victims, and that the force treats every incident seriously and investigates every crime reported thoroughly.
“We know that what we are doing is working; serious violent crime has decreased in the county and the public can be confident that Northamptonshire is becoming safer. In addition, the latest independent data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales has shown a continuing downward trend in crime over the past 20 years.
“The police and crime commissioner is leading an initiative to improve the response to the victim’s voice, and there is some excellent,round-breaking work taking place across the force to reduce crime and keep our communities safe.”
Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Adam Simmonds, said: “The accurate recording of crime is critical to understanding what’s going on in our communities and I will continue to insist that crime is recorded correctly and ethically in our county.
“This is vital, not only for the general public, but particularly for victims.
“The work being carried by the force, in line with the HMIC’s recommendations, is to be welcomed, and is part of an important cultural shift towards becoming more strongly victim focused.”