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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 14:25 GMT
Cracking the crime figures

By Andy Tighe
BBC home affairs correspondent

Violent crime is rising in England and Wales - but overall crime levels are stable, figures show.

Domestic violence image. Posed by models
Violent crime has risen in recent months

So, is crime up or is it down?

Of course, there is no easy answer. It all depends which statistics you use.

There are two ways of measuring crime.

On the one hand, there is what the police record as crime.

On the other, there is the British Crime Survey which interviews a large sample of people about crimes committed against them.

So on Thursday the Home Office is announcing: "Crime remains stable" at the head of its news release on the new figures. And it is right.

Different offences

By both measures there is no real difference in the overall rates of crime compared with the same quarter last year.

The best measure of all is people's own personal experience and that of their families and friends
But when you start to break down the different offences, it gets a bit trickier.

According to the British Crime Survey, which the government says is the most reliable measure, burglary, robbery and vehicle crime are all down.

And the chance of being a victim of crime is as low as it has been for 20 years.

So we can all sleep safely in our beds, right?

Not quite.

Because once you break down the police figures, they tell a slightly different story.

Yobbish behaviour

Violent crime is up by 14%. Violence against the person has increased by 17%, with more serious violence like homicide and wounding up by 18%.

So what is going on?

The government points to the new way in which the police record far more crimes than they used to, especially low-level thuggery and yobbish behaviour.

And it says victims of violent crime are more willing to come forward than they used to be.

Critics of government policy are likely to be less understanding. Who would you sooner believe, they say - statisticians or the police?

Spin doctors

Nevertheless, it is true two out of every three violent crimes recorded by the police are at the lower end of the scale, involving no serious physical injury to the victim.

And even according to the recorded figures, robbery is down - suggesting the recent street crime initiative is working.

Gun crime, though is up, with 2% more firearm offences compared with last year.

Not that the government is hanging its head in shame - because a year ago the same figure was rising by more than 30%.

So there is something in these figures for everyone.

Inevitably the best measure of all is people's own personal experience and that of their families and friends.

And they will not be bamboozled by pages of statistics, whatever the spin doctors try to make of them.

Violent crime up by 14%
22 Jan 04  |  UK
Rise in violent crime figures
22 Jan 04  |  Lancashire

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