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Monday, 16 October, 2000, 23:56 GMT 00:56 UK
Crime: The facts behind the figures

By BBC home affairs correspondent Jon Silverman

The British Crime Survey - which has been carried out eight times since 1982 - is regarded as the most reliable picture of crime in England and Wales.

It is a household survey in which more than 19,000 people aged 16 and over were interviewed about their own direct experience of crime.

Click here for more crime statistics and graphs.

Caution should be exercised in comparing the results of this survey with the six-monthly recorded crime statistics compiled by the police - because more than 40% of the crimes included in the BCS are not reported to the police and therefore don't show up in the official figures. This is especially true of assaults.

Downward trend continues

With that caveat, the latest BCS is welcome news for the government.

Continuing the trend in the last survey ( 1995-97 ) the overall crime figure is down. This time by 10%.

The high volume crime which often worries people most, car crime and burglary, shows a gratifyingly substantial drop. Car crime, by 15%. Burglary by 21% - bringing it to its lowest level since 1982.

These results confirm the success of police campaigns around the country to target these crimes.

But there is a sting in the tail for ministers. The BCS shows that public perception of crime lags behind the reality. One-third of those interviewed thought that the crime rate had increased " a lot " between 1997 and 1999. A further third thought it had increased "a little".

Generally, the message is that people over-estimate the chance of a crime happening to them.

Shifting pattern

The one crime to show an apparently striking rise is robbery. It is up by 14%. However, this is largely accounted for by attacks by and on 16-year-olds, with mobile phones often the object of the assault. If 16-year-olds were removed from the figures, the robbery rise would be down to 2%.

Within the category of violence, there appears to be a shifting pattern.

Violence by a stranger went up by 29% and now accounts for just over a quarter of all violent incidents. Much of this is alcohol-related, with a significant proportion of victims aged between 16 and 24.

Crime 'less fashionable'?

More than 40% of violence takes place in the street or in and around pubs and clubs. This kind of crime is now a focus of police activity in many areas.

Taking the overall drop in crime at face value - a trend which many other western societies are experiencing - Home Office researchers speculate that crime "may be becoming a less fashionable pursuit for high-risk age groups. "

But when pressed, they concede that, without more evidence, that remains just speculation.

British Crime Survey

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