UKCrimeStats – now getting noticed by the Home Office

Posted: May 31st, 2011  Author:   No Comments »

We all like to get noticed for our efforts – unless you’re a criminal of course ! – so we were pleased to come to the attention of the Home Office in a recent press release.

As I said and was quoted;

‘Britain is once again leading the world – this time in opening up public data to developers and none is more important than crime.

It will always be disputed how much crime is an economic or social problem but solving it will always be an information-driven solution.

For most people on a daily basis, crime’s impact is relative, affecting insurance premiums and blighting their area rather than being personal and direct – that’s why when using the public data, we developed a ranking system for streets, neighbourhoods and constituencies to give people a relative idea of risk they didn’t have before.’

Read the full page here on the Home Office website.

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Hard times, fewer crimes in the USA – what about Britain?

Posted: May 31st, 2011  Author:   No Comments »

A must read in-depth article in today’s Europe edition of the Wall Street Journal (online a few days ago) about the recession in America not leading to an increase in crime when unemployment doubled from 5 to 10% and exploring the reasons why. Some of the answers; a lot more people in prison, a decline in lead-fuelled petrol, less cocaine use and more hot-spot policing.

Our monthly data only goes back to December 2010 so we would not be able to display a relationship or not between rising unemployment and crime. If anything, over the last 5 months – see National Picture – we have seen crime rising during the economic recovery with a small drop in April, I suspect due to the number of public holidays and the Royal Wedding. Unemployment actually fell in the UK for the first 3 months of 2011.  However, in the near future, we would like to explore the static relationship between unemployment rates in constituencies and their overall crime rates. I’m wondering how much of a relationship there would be there either – we already know that some of the richest constituencies have some of the highest number of crimes.

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How accurate is the British Crime Survey?

Posted: May 31st, 2011  Author:   3 Comments »

A number of times now, a few people have remarked to me that the British Crime Survey (BCS) is a much more accurate guage of crime than police recorded crime which is what we use.  They’re free to think that of course, but I’m always a bit surprised and disappointed to find out that they have no idea how the BCS is calculated. What is it about people who more fervently believe something they don’t actually understand?

Anyway, here is a brief explanation of the BCS compared to what we do;

All crime statistics have 3 components; the i) victim i) the crime and iii) the criminal.

What the BCS does is focus a select group of victims (i) and asks around 50,000 victims living in private households about the crimes they have experienced in the last year.
What we do is take the recorded crimes (ii) by the 43 Police Forces in England and Wales, their category, their location and feed all 500,000 into a database once a month.
So the BCS is about the perception of crime from a victims point of view – useful of course but a much smaller and less factual sample. What our data does is strictly evidential, unless you think the Police are making up the crimes, their location and category !

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Cutting crime and the prison population?

Posted: May 28th, 2011  Author:   No Comments »

I keep thinking about this seminar I went to at Civitas – an excellent think tank – a few weeks ago, as reported on here by Alasdair Palmer of the Sunday Telegraph. Hats off to Civitas for inviting someone along to speak who doesn’t really share their view and thinks beyond prison works or doesn’t work – full stop. In my humble view, prison never quite works because it is meant to punish criminals, deter others and protect everyone else from repeat offenders. At what crime level do you declare success?

At best, 2 out of 3  seems achievable under the current setup and that’s excluding rehabilitation.

So my interest was piqued by the imaginative solution proffered by Professor Lawrence Sherman. As Palmer described;

At a fascinating talk at the think tank Civitas last week, he argued that prison is essential to protect the rest of us from hardened and violent criminals. But most prisoners aren’t actually in that category: they’re guilty of lots of relatively minor offences. And keeping them locked up is not the only way of reducing their criminal behaviour, merely the most expensive.

Instead of being sent to jail, Prof Sherman suggests that criminals in this group should be monitored by the police. When the cops catch them, it will often be better to offer them a deal than to prosecute: the police should tell the low-level criminal that if they go on a drug rehabilitation course, say, or get a job, or go for training, and stay out of trouble, they will not initiate the process of prosecution. If the criminal agrees, but is subsequently caught violating the terms of the deal, then the hammer comes down. But if he keeps his side of the bargain, nothing will happen.

Prof Sherman says that there is evidence from the US that what reduces reoffending among low-level criminals is very often the threat of prosecution, rather than the actual trial itself. And the problem with going through the courts is that it takes a very long time. As Prof Sherman says, no sensible parents tell their errant teenaged child, after they have caught him smoking: “This is appalling! In 12 months’ time, I might decide to prevent you from going out for a week. Or I might not. But in the meantime, I won’t do anything.” But that’s essentially how the court system in Britain works. It would be much more effective, claims Prof Sherman, if the police had the power to threaten the low-level criminal the moment they caught him.

I was intrigued to learn as well that Professor Sherman believes it is computationally possible to calculate future behaviour from past offences. I’m in think tanks so I do the unthinkable and politically irresponsible.

This system ought to be worth a trial in a few areas.

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