Government gambling on public safety, says Yorkshire police tsar after recorded crime rise

Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
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West Yorkshire’s police commissioner has claimed the Government is “taking a gamble on public and community safety” after a large rise in the number of recorded offences across the region.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of offences recorded by police rose by five per cent across the Yorkshire and the Humber region in the year to June.

Temporary Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Dee Collins.

Temporary Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Dee Collins.

West Yorkshire saw the biggest rise, eight per cent, while South Yorkshire and North Yorkshire saw rises of three and two per cent respectively. The number of offences recorded by Humberside stayed level.

The region saw a bigger rise in sexual offences and ‘violence without injury’ offences, which include child abduction, neglect and stalking, than anywhere else in the country.

Nationwide, the ONS’s figures showed that the number of sex offences reported to police is at the highest level since records began in 2002, a rise attributed to an better recording and an increased willingness of victims to come forward.

In West Yorkshire, bosses say the rise, including a 45.5 per cent jump in violent offences and sexual offences increasing by 72 per cent, is due to having better recording procedures after a shake-up prompted by a damning watchdog report into the way it deals with reported offences.

The force 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 this summer 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.

The force says it has seen “a small reduction in the number of calls and contact about crime related matters” which bosses say suggests “fewer people are actually experiencing more crime”.

Nationally, according to the Crime Survey for England, which is drawn from a large-scale field trial of 2,000 households, crime rates fell by eight per cent from last year and are at the lowest level since the survey began in 1981.

But this does not include an estimated 5.1 million incidents of fraud and 2.5 million cyber crimes, which were quantified for the first time. These figures show how the internet is “changing the nature of crime” in the UK, a senior police officer said.

On average one in 12 adults is a victim of fraud and one in 22 is a victim of cyber fraud, the figures show.

West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said he had been assured by his chief constable that local rises were “due mainly to the way in which crimes are recorded”.

But he said Government cuts to local policing budgets, which have seen the force shed 1,000 officers in West Yorkshire in the last five years, were having “a significant impact on policing”.

He said: “By cutting the budget by more than 20 per cent since 2010 and anywhere between another 25 per cent to 40 per cent there has been and will be significant implications which the public need to be aware of.

“Government is in my view now taking a gamble on public and community safety and I will be setting this out in more detail in the run up to the Comprehensive Spending Review announcements in November. Keeping crime levels low is more difficult with less money and less police officers.”

“I have also had assurances from the Police that these increases are due mainly to the way in which crimes are recorded. The rises in West Yorkshire are in line with the national trend and were highlighted in a HMIC report last year which made recommendations about improving how Crime Data Integrity needed to be improved.

In South Yorkshire, recorded crime overall rose by three per cent, with big increase in violent and sexual offences but falls in the majority of acquisitive crime types.

Assistant Chief Constable Jo Byrne said: “The rise in the number of sexual offences may appear alarming, however we can reassure the public that this is a national trend, thought to be due to improved recording of such offences and also a sign that more victims and survivors are coming forward to report their experiences.

“We believe that as a result of a number of high-profile investigations, victims and survivors trust that they will be supported and listened to.

“We are confident that the rise in violent crime is related to the fact that we have changed the way it is recorded, which is something we expect to impact on figures nationally.

“We can however reassure the public that we are focusing our efforts around violence in public places, particularly in the night time economy and are continuing to encourage victims and survivors of domestic abuse to come forward. This can be said of all crime types and we hope that our proactive policing is giving victims the courage and confidence to report all instances of crime.”

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner said: “An increase in recorded crime is worrying and may suggest that the cut in police numbers is starting to have some consequences - though it is too early to say whether this is a developing trend. “However, it is worth noting that crime in South Yorkshire is seeing smaller increases than other parts of the Yorkshire and Humber region or indeed nationally.”

Crime Minister Mike Penning insisted crime rates are continually dropping because of police reforms.

“Crime is falling and it is also changing, and we are committed to tackling fraud and cyber crime,” he added.

“This is not a new threat and the Government has been working to get ahead of the game.

“Since 2010, we have created the National Crime Agency, invested £860 million in the National Cyber Security Programme and established Action Fraud to support police by identifying the links between complex scams.”

He claimed the rise in violent and sexual crimes being reported to the police was due to changes in how offences are recorded.

“The Office for National Statistics has been clear that this rise reflects improvements in recording practice, rather than an increase in itself and this is something we welcome,” he continued.

“Tackling these horrific crimes is a priority, and we have introduced new laws that mean anyone caught in possession of a knife for a second time will now face a mandatory minimum sentence in prison.”

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