Anyone wanting an understanding of how crime is changing need look no further than the latest data released by the Office of National Statistics.
Improvements to the way Devon and Cornwall Police records activity, coupled with more robust enforcement, are believed to have contributed to an increase in reported crime in the force area of 10% in the year to September 30, 2018.
Nationally a significant rise in knife crime and murder grabbed the headlines, but the stand-out stat for me locally relates to stalking and harassment. There were 9,433 reports of stalking and harassment, up 55% on the previous year. This is likely to be because victims now have more faith that their complaints will be taken seriously and because the crime of stalking is being identified and recorded properly.
I’ve been a victim of stalking, and while there is always room for improvement, it’s fair to say that the force has made great strides in identifying stalking cases and giving victims a realistic chance of securing a conviction.
Next month I’ll be joining other stalking victims at the force’s first stalking convention, which is designed to raise awareness of the danger signs, both internally and with the public. Stalking might have been taking place for decades but it’s a relative new offence in its own right – the law defining it came into place in 2012.
Of course it’s right that victims have the police’s time and attention so action can be taken before a crime escalates but stalking, like county lines drug smuggling operations, is a good example a ‘new’ offence that our force has to find resources to deal with.
Changes in the way crime is recorded mean like to like comparisons are problematic, but nonetheless the ONS figures need to be considered. Crimes reported in the period involving violence with injury were up 13%, violence without injury (which includes stalking and harassment) was up 28% and sexual offences were up 12%. Household burglaries were down by 4%.
The next quarter figures will be more indicative of true changes in reported crime because they will compare to a period after Devon and Cornwall Police made significant improvements to the integrity of the data it collects.
There’s certainly evidence that drugs gangs are importing their poison into our area. In just a year the number of people who gave Crimestoppers enough information about drug dealing to prompt a police response in our force area rose from 1,163 to 1,594. Fortunately the number of positive outcomes and arrests rose as well.
We need to ensure the force has the capacity to deal with a rise in activity and the services for victims are fit for purpose.
My office has successfully bid for national monies that help mitigate the harm that these crimes cause, such as the Turning Corners project that is giving young people in South Devon the opportunity to avoid a gang culture, and the Exeter Prison departure lounge that gives ex-offenders a better chance of building stable and crime-free lives. We also fund the Victim Care Unit, which offers a range of services, free at the point of delivery, to victims of crime.
A total of £260,000 was provided to Sexual Abuse Referral Centres last year to help ensure that victims of sexual assaults have somewhere safe to access forensic services and receive support.
The ONS figures should give us a certain amount of reassurance in that once again they show that if you live in our patch you are less likely than most to be a victim of crime. I want to keep it that way and believe we need to invest in it further to do so.
If you want to have your say on police numbers please complete the poll that can be found on my office’s website www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk. If you want to pass on information about a crime, anonymously, please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. If you have been a victim of crime and want support, give the Victim Care Unit a bell on 01392 475900.