Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 13:31 UK

Analysis: Crime figures down

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs reporter

Graph showing the risk of violent crme

If you turned to the last two months' headlines for a sense of what is happening to crime, you would probably spend the rest of your days looking over your shoulder for an incoming knife-wielding hoodlum.

But the latest annual crime statistics for England and Wales could not be clearer about national trends: offences are down yet again and we are in the longest ever recorded period of falling crime.

While we in the national media may have been highlighting brutal knife slayings, the reality for most parts of England and Wales is completely different.

The government relies on two officials measures to work out what is happening to crime: offences recorded by the police and the 47,000-strong British Crime Survey (BCS) which captures experiences which do not always lead to a 999 call.

And the key to knowing if it is safe to walk the streets of Hackney lies in the relationship between these stats, flaws in the system, wider social or policing factors - and which newspaper you read.

Good news for government

The 2007-08 figures are generally good news. Recorded crime is down 9% to 5m offences.

The number of the most serious violence crimes has fallen by 12%. Recorded drug offences are the only one of eight key measures to have significantly risen - up almost a fifth on the previous year.

Overall, the British Crime Survey says the rate of offending on the streets of England and Wales today is the lowest it has been since 1995 - the longest recorded period of falling crime.

Violence offences

The current key public concern has been a fear of knife-carrying and gun-toting gang members running the inner-city streets of Britain.

One: 54% of violent incidents
Two: 13%
Three: 8%
Four plus: 25%
Source: BCS 2007-08

For the first time we have some proper figures on rates of knife crime - they were used in 6% of all violent incidents.

To put that in perspective, bottles or glasses were used in 4% of incidents and firearms in 1%.

Overall, there were just over 22,000 crimes of attempted murder, GBH, and robbery involving knives or "sharp instruments" - that is one-in-five of all the offences in those categories.

Almost 40% of serious wounding crimes and just over a third of all homicides involved a knife.

Gun crime is up 2% and "all homicides" up 3%. More detailed research on what those rises mean will come later in the year.

Concern over knife crimes has been concentrated on a number of terrible deaths in a number of key inner cities, chiefly London.

The Metropolitan Police say that knife crime in the capital is down 16% - 7,409 offences in all.

Fight night

But the majority of violent offences were committed by single young men - and the key factor behind that is booze.

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Almost one million acts of violence on the streets of England and Wales are thought to have been committed by people who were too drunk to stop themselves having a go at someone else.

So what this all comes down to is a difference between perception and reality. We perceive there is a problem with youth gang crime - but the evidence suggests it may be more to do with delinquency, drunkenness and boredom. The reality is that the real source of most violent crime remains Friday and Saturday nights.

Crime has been falling in almost every developed nation, regardless of the specific crime-busting approaches by different governments.

So while six out of 10 people think crime is rising nationally, the risk of being a victim is at its lowest level since the BCS began in 1981. The statisticians report goes on to note that those most likely to say crime has risen a lot are also most likely to read a tabloid. And that's a damning sideswipe at the media that ministers would never be prepared to make.

Economic prosperity has helped cut crime - there is a powerful argument that China's cheap goods boom has meant it is not worth nicking a DVD player anymore.

But more importantly, police everywhere have far more sophisticated methods to solve crimes while homes and cars are far more secure than they were in the 1980s.

The question for policy-makers is whether these falls will be sustainable. Research in the past has suggested that economic downturns lead to more property crime. If we are on our way into the bad times this will be the figure to watch.

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