Police watchdog HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found that a fifth of crimes may be going unrecorded, partly due to poorly integrated IT systems.
The watchdog found that the 43 police forces in England and Wales use 14 different incident-recording IT systems and 18 different crime-recording systems. In addition, specialist police departments, such as those investigating serious sexual offences, often have separate IT systems used mainly for case management and information-sharing.
“Inadequate crime-recording on IT systems directly affects a force’s knowledge about crime. Without an accurate picture, there can be no proper analysis or a full understanding of the threat, risk and possible harm to the public. This knowledge is needed to decide where and how best to deploy police resources,” the HMIC said in an interim report today.
It added: “The ability to audit systems properly is impeded by the number of incompatible IT systems in use and also because some of these systems have not been designed with an effective audit capability.”
The interim report is based on inspections carried out in 13 of the 43 Home Office police forces, including the Metropolitan Police, Greater Manchester Police and Devon and Cornwall Police. The inspection is the most extensive of its kind ever undertaken into the integrity of crime data by HMIC.
The watchdog believes that as much as 20 percent of crimes may be going unrecorded due to the lack of IT systems integration and poor management of crime recording. Other issues causing errors in crime recording included poor knowledge of the recording rules, inadequate training, poor supervision and over-burdensome workloads.
It also highlighted a lack of focus on the victim by the police when making decisions about recording crime. For example, their initial inspections have identified 14 rapes that were not recorded.
However, it did identify some strengths among the forces examined, such as offences being recorded correctly on virtually every occasion and professionalism towards victims during the initial contact.
HMIC was keen to emphasise that these are emerging themes, not final conclusions, and the only statistically significant findings will be available when the final report is published in October.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor, said: “The accuracy and integrity of police-recorded crime data are vital to public trust in the police.
He added: “The consequences of under-recording of crime are serious...although this is an interim report, and we have identified common strengths, we are seriously concerned at the picture which is emerging – particularly about the significant under-recording of crime, and serious sexual offences not being recorded.”
Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: “HMIC’s interim report on the inspection of crime data integrity in police forces in England and Wales is devastating.
He continued: “Our key witness, whistleblower PC James Patrick, said crime was under-recorded by as much as 20 per cent. HMIC says the same. They also accept that it is ‘difficult to conclude that none of these failures was the result of discreditable or unethical behaviour’.
At the end of last year, the police’s Freedom of Information (FOI) expert Mark Wise revealed that forces are struggling to handle the high levels of FOI requests due to a lack of standard data management systems.
However, policing minister Damian Green has said that he hopes all services will be “genuinely digital” by 2016, meaning that the public will be able to report crime online and officers will be able to record crime remotely on tablets and other devices while out on duty.
To encourage this, the Home Office is handing out £20 million in funding to help improve police technology. Of the forces that have already been awarded funding, nine of them will use it to roll out mobile data equipment so officers can update records remotely and six of them will invest in body-worn camera technology. A consortium of 24 forces will use their funding to move public-facing services, such as incident reporting, online.