Police abandon 850,000 inquiries a year


An article I worked on with Peter Newlands and Jon Ungoed-Thomas made the front page of the Sunday Times this weekend.

Freedom of information requests revealed more than half of police forces that responded to use a ‘screening out’ process, in which crimes are not investigated because police feel they are unlikely to be solved.

The Metropolitan Police alone abandoned more than 350,000 inquiries in 2011-12.

Among the victims affected was Marc Cutler, a public relations executive from north London, who had his Charge Plug bike stolen from railings near a flower market last year.

He said: “I spoke to the police, but they said there was not a lot they could do. They’d give me a crime report number, but they were not hopeful I’d get it back.

Cutler tracked down the stolen bike himself by scanning for advertisements on websites. He contacted the seller, a Russian man, and took two friends for the rendezovous.

At the meeting, Cutler clutched his stolen bike as his friends phone the police. Cutler said: “When the police got there, they checked the serial number and told the man he could leave the bike with me, or be arrested – he finally left. It’s a shame that they don’t take crimes like this seriously.”

Philippa Brady, an events manager who lives in London, had her bank card, camera and cash stolen during a night out at a cinema. There was CCTV footage that could have been examined, but police said a detailed investigation was not appropriate. She says she was told by an officer “There wasn’t a thing they could do.”

Full text is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

Two websites helped me speak to a number of affected cyclists whose stolen bikes were not investigated – www.stolen-bikes.co.uk and www.londoncyclist.co.uk.

Marc Cutler, reunited with his bike, pictured with the friends who assisted


Police abandon 850,000 crime inquiries a year

Jon Ungoed-Thomas, Peter Newlands and Cal Flyn.
Published in The Sunday Times, 5 May 2013

POLICE are failing to investigate about 850,000 crimes a year properly — including sexual assaults, burglaries, thefts and vandalism — because officers believe they are unlikely to be solved.

New figures reveal up to 90% of some types of offences are being “screened out” as unsuitable for detailed investigation in a move to save resources. More than half the police forces in England and Wales who responded to freedom of information (FOI) requests said they operated a screening policy.

The Metropolitan police decided to abandon investigations into more than 362,300 crimes in 2011-12. This represented 44% of all offences. Bedfordshire police screened out 39% of crimes, Warwickshire 37% of offences and Northamptonshire 33% of crimes.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said the varying figures between forces was worrying and suggested a “postcode lottery”.

The most serious crimes require mandatory investigation, but others are assessed after considering factors such as the availability of witnesses, CCTV footage, forensic evidence, linked offences and the vulnerability of the victim.

The Metropolitan police screened out the highest proportion of offences out of the 24 forces who responded to FOI requests. No murders or rapes were screened out, but investigations were shelved into 13% of assaults causing injury (6,892 offences); 3% of sexual offences (207 offences) — apart from rape — were screened out.

More than 65,700 thefts from motor vehicles were screened out, which is nearly 90% of all such offences. The majority of thefts are not thoroughly investigated. More than 45% of arson attacks were also screened out.

Hampshire police screened out 31,242 crimes out of  128,690 in 2011-12 (24%). It  said that its “triage process” looked at the potential for gathering evidence and screened out “low-level relatively minor crime”.

Out of the 2.3m offences recorded by the police forces that responded to the FOI request, more than one in five (495,817) were screened out. If this proportion was replicated for the 3.9m recorded offences in the 43 police forces in England and Wales, it would represent a total of nearly 850,000 screened out.

There were wide variations between forces, not only in their responses but also in the proportion of crimes screened out. A number of police forces admitted they did not investigate some crimes but refused to give any figures.

Jeff Farrar, head of crime and statistics at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “The decision of whether a crime is detectable has got to take into account all evidence available to officers such as forensics and witness reports as well as policing priorities and available resources. It should be emphasised that any crime that presents solvability factors should receive appropriate investigation.”

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