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Wednesday, 19 January, 2000, 08:59 GMT
Facts behind the crime figures

BBC Crimewatch UK presenter Nick Ross argues that figures showing a rise in crime need to be read with caution.

A rise in violent crime, an increase in muggings and robberies. The latest Home Office crime figures make worrying reading.

But behind the alarming headlines, are we really facing a rising tide of crime - or is the truth a little less dramatic?

In a previous set of crime figures, one force showed a 40% increase in the incidents of male rape - but the figures didn't show it had opened a special suite in order to encourage more men to report the crime.

Worryingly, in many cases, the figures are distorted by the police doing something right.

Some forces have changed the way they record crime
For instance, the police now take domestic violence much more seriously and are treating as a crime something that they might previously have ignored.

It is interesting to look at crimes where the majority of actual incidents are likely to be recorded, such as murder.

If you are seeing, as the crime figures suggest, a high increase in the number of violent offences, then you would expect a similar increase in the murder rate.

We are now able to detect murders that 20 or so years ago would not have been identified as a crime, yet the number of reported murders has increased at a much lower rate than that recorded for violent crime.

The actual incidents of crime are, of course, much higher than those revealed by the figures - people certainly don't report every crime that affects them.

Experiences of crime

But all the indications are that the level of crime has remained broadly flat.

A much better indication of levels of crime is the British Crime Survey, which comes out every three years.

People are asked for their own experiences of crime, and the survey shows that, in general, the pattern of crime is going down or staying the same.

What figures like those released today show can be distorted by the things I have already mentioned, or by particular forces changing the way they record crime.

There's no doubt that the level of crime in this country is far from satisfying - we have the worst car crime rate in the world for instance.

I have no reason to try to whitewash the figures, but at the same time, while figures like those published on Tuesday may make headlines, they do not give the real picture of crime in this country.

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See also:
18 Jan 00 |  UK
Street crime surges
18 Jan 00 |  UK
Crime figures: force by force

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