Chris Game

One thing about the BBC that really irritates me – up there with its inane Diamond Jubilee reporting, expensively inept management, and the Today programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’ – is its pathetic practice of basing programmes on what it claims are new, exclusively revealed and/or cunningly researched data, when in fact they are nothing of the kind.

There was a typical example last Thursday morning, as the otherwise admirable Victoria Derbyshire devoted a section of her Radio 5 live (actually, that title annoys me too) programme to the tricky but important topic of disability hate crime. The interviews with hate crime victims and their relatives were moving, and the item overall genuinely informative. My only gripe was that none of the statistics that introduced it were, as was repeatedly implied, specially produced or provided for the programme. On the contrary, all were published back in September and October and have been available to all of us ever since – so why the charade of pretending otherwise?

In this instance, the statistics actually structured the story – a fact I remember well, because they appeared during the election campaign for Police and Crime Commissioners and I briefly considered blogging about them myself. I didn’t then, but I will now.

The police have monitored hate crimes – those motivated by hostility towards the victim’s race, religion/faith, disability, gender identification or sexual orientation – for several years now, with annual statistics of recorded crimes in each victim category published by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Last year the Home Office officially took over publication of the 2011/12 figures, but, for comparative purposes, the slightly differently based ACPO figures were published alongside – both on September 13th.

Both sets showed the total number of hate crimes, which represent just over 1% of the 4 million police-recorded crimes in England and Wales each year, falling in 2011/12 by roughly 10% – from around 48,000 to 44,000. Promising news, on the face of it, with four of the five victim categories showing falling numbers, including race, which alone accounts for four-fifths of the total. However, two big qualifications are required – one general, one specific.

The general qualification, necessary in any serious discussion of the incidence of crime, is that police records are only one source of criminal statistics in the UK. The other and complementary source is the British Crime Survey (BCS), a face-to-face victimisation survey in which household residents recount their personal experience of crime over the preceding 12 months, and which therefore picks up particularly offences like hate crimes that for various reasons may not be reported to or recorded by the police. The BCS’ 2010/11 estimate of hate crime incidents is nearly six times higher (260,000) than the number recorded by the police, which puts even a fall of 4,000 recorded crimes into a somewhat different light.

The specific and distinctly untimely qualification to the recorded crime statistics, arriving as they did immediately after the Paralympics, is that, within the overall fall, ACPO’s figure of 1,937 disability hate crimes was up by 23% from 2010/11 and by 50% from 2009/10. With Government policies demonstrably fuelling ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric, these big increases may not surprise, but they still make sobering reading.

As do the records of West Midlands Police – those in which I take most personal interest – and which were broadly similar. The 2011/12 total of 2,939 hate crimes was down by 6%, but disability hate crimes were up by 24%. Obviously, some of the raw numbers here are relatively small: 33 disability hate crimes recorded in 2010/11, rising to 41 in 2011/12 – or 46 in the Home Office tables. But, looking at the bigger picture, these small figures prompt questions in themselves of what is, after the Met, the second largest police force in the country.

BCS figures suggest that a quarter of all hate crimes involve disabled victims: 65,000 in 2010/11, an average of 1,250 each week, which proportionately would mean roughly 60 per week across the metropolitan West Midlands. Yet less than one disability hate crime per week is being recorded.

Referring not to the BCS, but using “figures seen by this programme” (and by anyone else consulting the Home Office website), Victoria Derbyshire picked on the contrast between South Yorkshire’s recorded total of just 9 disability hate crimes and neighbouring West Yorkshire’s 137. Disparities in the West Midlands aren’t as glaring, but they raise essentially similar issues.

Excluding the Met, the West Midlands Police recorded the second highest totals of race (2,531) sexual orientation (210) hate crimes – behind Greater Manchester, but otherwise ahead of the field, as might be expected, given the size of the force and the region’s population.  In the disability league table, however, their modest 46 recorded hate crimes ranked 11th, well adrift not only of other metropolitan forces, but of several county forces a fraction of their size, like Suffolk (130), Norfolk (120), and Avon & Somerset (113).

Interestingly, given the media’s normal excitement over any local differences that can be presented as a ‘postcode lottery’, these inter-force variations were not the chief concern of this particular programme. Rather, it was some other figures, from the Crown Prosecution Service’s 2011/12 hate crime report, also published in October, and they did indeed present a remarkable picture.

In headline terms, pretty well everything’s down. Number of hate crime cases referred by the police to the CPS: down by 5% from about 15,500 in 2010/11 to 14,800. Number of cases prosecuted: down 7%. Disability hate crime referrals from the police: down by 7% from 690 to 643. Completed hate crime prosecutions: down by 15% from 726 to 621.

Again, at first glance, you might almost suppose that these falling totals reflected a transitory problem that had peaked and that the police and CPS between them now had satisfactorily in hand. Until, that is, you note that successful prosecutions were also down: for all hate crimes by 7%, for disability hate crimes by 17%; and you recall those British Crime Survey projections – 260,000 hate crime incidents per year; 65,000 disability hate crime incidents – and the hugely varying police force returns.

All of which suggest precisely the reverse conclusions. First, hate crimes generally, and disability hate crimes especially – which are currently increasing proportionately faster than other categories – are massively under-counted in police-recorded statistics and almost certainly under-prosecuted. Second, many, perhaps most, police forces appear from their own statistics to be giving no priority to improving their awareness, their recording, or their CPS-referral of disability hate crimes. If Police and Crime Commissioners are looking for ways of demonstrating their usefulness both to us and to the forces they are now responsible for holding to account, this might, I’d suggest, be one beneficial place to start.

game

Chris is a Visiting Lecturer at INLOGOV interested in the politics of local government; local elections, electoral reform and other electoral behaviour; party politics; political  leadership and management; member-officer relations; central-local relations; use of consumer and opinion research in local government; the modernisation agenda and the implementation of executive local government.

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