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OPCC review of latest crime data from Office of National Statistics (ONS)

The data released by the Office for National Statistics today further highlights the need for a fairer approach to the allocation of the central government police grant.

The most recent model for distributing central police funding across the 43 police forces would see Devon and Cornwall lose £13.5m. In addition to anticipated additional cuts across all police forces this must surely place the current good performance of Devon and Cornwall in serious jeopardy.

The data produced today once again indicates that in Devon and Cornwall, efforts to tackle the more straightforward areas of crime such as theft and acquisitive crime are paying off with continuing reductions in recorded crime in these areas. As a result the crime mix in Devon and Cornwall is skewed towards more complex offence categories such as violent crime and sexual offences. We have a relatively high proportion of recorded crime that is related to violent crime. This will include complex offence categories such as domestic abuse and hate crime. In addition we have a high proportion of sexual offences including child sexual exploitation. These are complex crime types that require a great deal of support to the victim and close partnership working to address effectively.

Violence against the person represents 28% of recorded crime in Devon and Cornwall compared to 23% in the Metropolitan Police, 21% in Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Merseyside. These offences include some complex offence types such as domestic abuse and hate crime. Similarly sexual offences represent 3.2% of recorded crime in Devon and Cornwall compared to 2.1% in the Metropolitan Police and 2.2% in West Midlands and Merseyside. These will include offences linked to child sexual exploitation, complex and difficult offence types to investigate and prevent.

The impact of such extensive funding cuts in Devon and Cornwall will make current good performance in areas of acquisitive crime and even low level violence difficult to maintain, especially in light of the evidence of an increasing burden of complex crime in Devon and Cornwall.

Total crime

The data released today supports the view that Devon and Cornwall police have continued to respond well to the challenges they face, delivering further improvements on those reported previously. Indeed in many areas performance in Devon and Cornwall is bucking national trends with reductions in shoplifting, criminal damage and public order offences in Devon and Cornwall set against an increasing national trend in these offence categories.
Total crime is reported to have reduced by 6% in Devon and Cornwall against a national position of 4% increase in the last 12 months.
The Force’s overall position in the national league table has improved once again to 4th with the rate of offending per 1000 population reduced to 47 offences per 1000.

The main drivers of this improvement are increases in violence against the person (5%) in Devon and Cornwall that are considerably less than the rate of increase for England and Wales (25%) and continuing good performance across the spectrum of acquisitive crime and especially in relation to serious acquisitive crime (burglary and vehicle offences). Significant reductions in public order offences (21%) have also contributed to the good performance.

Good news

Overall the Force has the 2nd lowest rate of theft nationally. Reductions in all areas of acquisitive crime have outstripped those reported elsewhere.

Overall the Force is ranked the 2nd lowest for domestic burglary and ranked the 4th lowest for vehicle crime.
Reductions in non-domestic burglary and vehicle offences are greater than the national average.
Violence with injury remains stable in Devon and Cornwall against an increase elsewhere of 16%. Devon and Cornwall is now ranking in the middle of the table nationally for violence against the person and this shift away from the highest rates of violent crime is apparent in relation to both violence with and without injury. Offending rates in both categories of violent crime are now below the national average in Devon and Cornwall. There is also compelling local evidence that there has been a shift in the severity of violence within the violence with injury offence category with reductions in the most serious offence types (GBH for e.g.) and reductions in violence with injury overall.

A similar shift in rank is also apparent in relation to sexual offences, although the number of recorded offences in Devon and Cornwall continue to increase, the rate of increase is less than that seen nationally. We have listened to partner agencies that provide support to victims of sexual abuse to understand the extent to which this increase reflects improved confidence in victims to come forward and report to the police. Feedback has suggested that more victims are indeed coming forward. Potential drivers of this include improvements in victim’s service provision, the ‘Saville’ effect where high profile media cases influence reporting among victims and increases in reported domestic violence related sexual abuse. We continue to acknowledge this increase as a positive trend and to challenge the police to ensure that victims receive a high standard of support.

Public order offences are also showing similar strong performance against the national trend. In contrast to the position a year ago when the force had the highest rate of public order offences it now has the 14th highest rate of public order offences.

Remaining challenges

Low level violence (violence without injury) continues to show a significant increase, albeit at a much lower rate than apparent elsewhere. These offences involve physical contact in the absence of any injury, a shove for example. Offences range from altercations between neighbours and school children to disagreements between siblings. Resolving these issues will require co-operation with partner agencies such as education, health and local authorities. The OPCC are working with the police to build deeper understanding among partners of the issues and to support information sharing to prevent offending and to address the root causes.

Summer policing figures were so good last year, even in the face of high visitor numbers that the baseline for the summer months this year may prove challenging. Nonetheless we still require the police to continue to deliver reductions in victim-based crime.

Additional commentary

The renewed focus on the quality of crime recording is likely to have prompted improved compliance with national standards in some police forces, leading to more crimes being recorded. This is thought to have particularly affected the police recorded figures for violence against the person and public order offences. It is possible to speculate that some part of the improvement in relative performance in Devon and Cornwall is due to other forces tightening up their crime recording processes.