1. Main points

Comparable figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) showed no statistically significant change compared with the previous year’s survey, with an estimated 6.1 million incidents of crime in the survey year ending December 2016.

Including experimental statistics on fraud and computer misuse offences, there were an estimated 11.5 million incidents of crime in the survey year ending December 2016. As questions on fraud and computer misuse were not in the previous year’s survey, it is only possible to make year-on-year comparisons from the CSEW by excluding such offences.

While it is too early to look at trends in fraud from the new CSEW Experimental Statistics, other data suggest it has risen over the last year. For example, fraud referred to the police showed an annual rise of 4% and industry data on financial fraud showed there were 1.8 million cases of frauds on UK-issued cards (an increase of 22% from the previous year).

Most main offence groups covered by the CSEW showed no statistically significant change compared with the previous year’s survey. Theft offences were the only exception and these fell by 10%.

The police recorded a total of 4.8 million offences in the year ending December 2016, an annual rise of 9%. However, the large volume increases driving this trend are thought to reflect changes in recording processes and practices rather than crime.

However, there appeared to be smaller but genuine increases in some of the lower volume but higher harm categories of police recorded violence, including homicide and knife crime. There were also small increases in some offences where recording practices are less likely to have been a driving factor. For example, it is likely that recent rises in burglary and robbery reflect some genuine increases in crime. However, these recent increases should be seen in the context of substantial falls in such crime over the longer-term.

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2. What has changed within this publication?

Quarterly bulletins have adopted a new, shorter format since the year ending December 2015 release, with the aim of making the main messages more accessible. Despite cutting down the commentary in these bulletins, we have maintained the published level of detail in datasets and in order to ensure that none of the previously published information has been lost, all “former bulletin tables” continue to be published.

New questions on fraud and computer misuse were added to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) in October 2015. These questions have now been included within the CSEW for over 12 months, with sufficient data having been gathered to form a new additional headline estimate of total CSEW crime. As these are newly developed elements of the survey, this estimate and others on fraud are produced as Experimental Statistics (Tables A1 to A3 and Table E1 to E2).

Experimental Statistics on fraud and cybercrime recorded by the police are also being published again alongside this bulletin, including:

  • Action Fraud data at police force area level, based on victim residency; these are presented in Table E3
  • police recorded crime data on offences that have been flagged as having an online element1; these are presented in Table E4

Notes for: What has changed within this publication?

  1. An offence should be flagged where the reporting officer believes that on the balance of probability, the offence was committed, in full or in part, through a computer, computer network or other computer-enabled device.
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3. Future publication plans

The briefing note Improving Crime Statistics for England and Wales – progress update provides an overview of our plans to improve the design, coverage and presentation of crime statistics in England and Wales over the next few years.

The main focus of the commentary in our statistical bulletins has always been on numbers of crimes. In the future, alongside continued commentary on numbers, we intend to give greater prominence to crime rates compared with the current bulletin format to help put numbers in the context of the population. We are seeking advice from the National Statistician’s Crime Statistics Advisory Committee regarding the planned implementation of these presentational changes.

Following criticism of the methodology for handling high-frequency repeat victimisation in Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates, particularly with regard to violent crime, we commissioned an independent review of the current and alternative methods for addressing repeat victimisation. This review was published on 6 July 2016 alongside a user consultation seeking feedback on the review’s recommendations. The consultation ran until 13 September 2016. In response our proposed way forward was published on 7 November 2016, along with a summary of the feedback received to the consultation, with plans to implement the new methodology and revise the back series by July 2018 at the latest. More information can be found in Section 2 of the User Guide to Crime Statistics.

We have recently published information regarding a new proposed crime measure called the Crime Severity Score (CSS). Based on police recorded crime, the CSS would be intended to supplement existing measures rather than replace them. It aims to take into account both the volume and the severity of offences, by weighting offences differently according to their severity. By “severity”, we are intending to reflect the relative harm of an offence to society and the likely demands on the police, given that the police resource requirements are likely to be greater for offences that are more serious. Details of the CSS are available in an article published in November 2016.

We intend to continue developing the structure of our quarterly statistical bulletins in future editions. In addition, as part of this ongoing review, we will be seeking views on whether there is a continuing need for all of the data we publish and whether there are new requirements for data we are not currently producing. We will also be looking at opportunities to exploit new data sources to meet your needs for more detailed information on the nature of crime.

We would welcome any additional feedback on this new format or any aspect of our improvement programme by email at crimestatistics@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

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4. Things you need to know about this release

A crime is an act harmful to an individual (or individuals), a community, society or the State and is punishable by law. Being an illicit activity, by its nature, it is impossible to measure in its entirety.

These Official Statistics draw on two main sources to measure crime levels and trends: the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and police recorded crime; neither of these sources can provide a complete picture and each have different strengths and limitations.

Crime Survey for England and Wales

The CSEW is a face-to-face victimisation survey in which people resident in households in England and Wales are asked about their experiences of a selected range of offences in the 12 months prior to the interview. For the population and offence types it covers, the CSEW generally provides the better measure of trends on a consistent basis over time, because it is unaffected by changes in levels of reporting to the police or police recording practices. The methodology employed in the main count of crime has remained comparable since the survey began in 1981. It was also confirmed in December 2016 that statistics produced from the CSEW retained their National Statistics status.

The CSEW is able to capture a broad range of victim-based crimes experienced by those interviewed, not just those that have been reported to, and recorded by, the police. However, there are some high harm but relatively lower-volume offences, such as homicide and sexual offences, which are not included in its main estimates. The survey also excludes crimes against commercial or public sector bodies or those living in communal establishments (such as care homes, student halls of residence and prisons).

The survey now includes fraud and computer misuse (further information is available in Section 5.4 of the User Guide to Crime Statistics for England and Wales). Until such data are available for two complete survey years, commentary on trends will be based on CSEW crime excluding fraud and computer misuse offences.

The CSEW allows for the estimation of a variety of different measures, including the number of incidents of crime and the number of victims. Using population estimates it is also possible to calculate the corresponding number of incidents per 1,000 population (the incident rate) and the number of victims per 100 population (the prevalence or victimisation rate). All four measures have been included within this release. For some crime types, the numbers of victims will be lower than the numbers of incidents, as some victims experience repeat victimisation. For household crimes such as burglary and criminal damage, the number of victims will be higher than the number of incidents, as each adult resident in the household is counted as a victim.

Police recorded crime

Police recorded crime figures are restricted to a subset of notifiable offences that have been reported to and recorded by the police. Therefore, while the police recorded crime series covers a wider population and a broader set of offences than the CSEW (for example, residents of institutions, tourists and crimes against commercial bodies), it does not include crimes that do not come to the attention of the police or are not recorded by them. Police recorded crime is the principal source of subnational crime statistics and for higher harm, but lower volume, crimes that are not well-measured by a sample survey, and as such it is an important source for analysing trends in well-reported crimes, such as homicide and vehicle theft.

Following an assessment of crime statistics by the UK Statistics Authority, published in January 2014, the statistics based on police recorded crime data were found not to meet the required standard for designation as National Statistics. Police recorded crime is not currently considered a reliable measure of trends in crime for most crime types, since it is prone to changes in recording practices and police activity as well as changing behaviour in public reporting of crime. As a result, trends will not always reflect changing levels of criminal activity. Apparent increases in police recorded crime seen over the last 2 years may reflect a number of factors, including tightening of recording practice, process improvements, increases in reporting by victims and also genuine increases in the levels of crime. It is often difficult to disentangle these different factors. Further information is available in the “quality and methodology” section of this release.

Time periods covered

The latest CSEW figures presented in this release are based on interviews conducted between January 2016 and December 2016, measuring peoples’ experiences of crime in the 12 months before the interview.

The latest recorded crime figures relate to crimes recorded by the police during the year ending December 2016 (between January 2016 and December 2016).

In this release:

  • “latest year” (or “latest survey year”) refers to the (survey) year ending December 2016
  • “previous year” (or “previous survey year”) refers to the (survey) year ending December 2015
  • any other time period is referred to explicitly
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7. Latest violent crime figures continue to present a complex picture

Violent crime covers a wide range of offences including minor assaults (such as pushing and shoving), harassment and abuse (that result in no physical harm), through to wounding and homicide. For the population and offences that it covers, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) provides the better measure of trends in overall violent crime. The police recorded crime series is restricted to violent offences that have been reported to, and recorded by, the police. However, due to the renewed focus on the quality of crime recording by the police, this crime series is not currently believed to provide a reliable measure of trends, owing to the ensuing efforts of police forces to tighten recording practice and improve recording processes.

Main findings

Over the longer-term, levels of violent crime estimated by the CSEW have shown substantial falls. These declines continued until 2014, after which estimates of violence from the CSEW have been fairly flat.

CSEW findings for the latest survey year show no change in levels of violence compared with the previous survey year (the apparent 4% increase was not statistically significant).

Violence against the person offences recorded by the police rose by 19% in the latest year and recorded levels are at the highest seen in a 12-month period since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in April 2002.

Within the overall category of violence against the person, the expansion of the harassment category to include two additional offences1 has accounted for nearly 4 in 10 of the recent rise in violent crime. Improvements in crime recording practices, as well as a possible rise in the proportion of violent crimes reported to the police (particularly in the case of domestic abuse), are also thought to have contributed to this rise. Alongside this, it is possible there have been small, but genuine, increases in some types of violent crime.

In the category of homicide, which also sits within violence against the person, the police recorded 697 offences in the latest year, 121 more than in the previous year (a 21% increase)2. However, this includes the 96 cases of manslaughter that resulted from the events in Hillsborough in 19893. Excluding those 96 cases, the increase in police recorded homicides is much lower, at 4%.

Crime Survey for England and Wales

CSEW violence includes incidents with and without injury and also covers attempted incidents.

Latest CSEW data showed there were an estimated 1.3 million incidents of violence experienced by adults aged 16 and over in the latest survey year; no change from the previous survey year (the apparent 4% rise was not statistically significant). The apparent 5% increase in the sub-category of “violence with injury” and apparent 3% increase in the sub-category of “violence without injury” were also not statistically significant (Figure 3).

The estimated number of CSEW violence incidents rose sharply through the early 1990s (peaking in 1995) and then fell steeply until the survey year ending March 2002. Violence declined between the survey year ending March 2002 and survey year ending March 2014, but since this period there has been a fairly flat trend.

Around 2 in every 100 adults were a victim of CSEW violent crime in the latest survey year, compared with around 3 in 100 adults in the survey year ending March 2006 and 5 in 100 adults in 1995 (the peak year).

Estimates of violence against 10 to 15 year olds, as measured by the CSEW, can be found in Table F22.

Trends in violent crime, as shown by the CSEW, are also reflected in the most recent evidence available from research conducted by the Violence and Society Research Group at Cardiff University. Findings from their annual survey, covering a sample of hospital emergency departments and walk-in centres in England and Wales, show that serious violence-related attendances in 2016 were down compared with 2015 and continue a generally long-term downward trend.

Police recorded crime

Violent offences in police recorded data are referred to as “violence against the person” and include homicide, violence with injury and violence without injury4. As with the CSEW, both actual and attempted assaults are included in the figures. It should also be noted that the police recorded crime category of violence against the person also includes some offences, such as harassment and stalking, in which there is no physical assault involved.

Recent changes in recording practice make interpreting trends in violence against the person offences difficult. It is known that violent offences are more prone than some other offences to subjective judgement about whether or not to record a crime. The Crime-recording: making the victim count report, published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on 18 November 2014, found that “violence against the person” offences had the highest under-recording rates across police forces in England and Wales. Nationally, an estimated 1 in 3 (33%) reports of violence that should have been logged as crimes were not recorded as such.

There was a 19% increase in the number of violence against the person offences recorded by the police in the latest year (up to 1,117,969) compared with the previous year. Part of this increase is due to the expansion of the harassment category to include two additional notifiable offences. Improvements in crime recording practices are also thought to be an important driver of this increase, as well as a potential increase in the proportion of victims reporting crimes to the police, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. It is also possible there have been small, but genuine, increases in some types of violent crime.

The “violence without injury” sub-category showed an increase of 27% over the same period (up to 660,281 offences), while the “violence with injury” sub-category showed a smaller increase of 10% (up to 456,991 offences). It is thought that recording improvements are more likely to affect relatively less-serious violent offences and helps explain the larger increase in the sub-category “violence without injury” compared with “violence with injury”.

The increase in “violence without injury” is partially due to a 53% rise in harassment offences in the latest year compared with the previous year (up to 202,755 from 132,155). One factor that has contributed to this rise in harassment is the expansion of this category in April 2015 to include two additional notifiable offences5 that were previously not included in the police recorded crime series. These are “Disclosure of private sexual photographs and films (including on the internet) with the intent to cause distress or anxiety” and “Sending letters (including emails) with intent to cause distress or anxiety”6; the latter is thought to account for 97% of these newly added offences7.

It is possible to look at the impact of adding these two additional notifiable offences, based on data from 38 forces (from the Home Office Data Hub). As these data include a full break down of offence classifications, it is possible to look at year-on-year changes excluding the two additional offences. This indicates that without these offences there would have been smaller rises in relevant categories as follows:

  • 19% in harassment offences rather than 53%
  • 19% in violence without injury rather than 27%
  • 14% in total violence against the person rather than 19%

Within “violence without injury” there is an increase in modern slavery offences, which have risen to 1,721 from the 565 recorded the previous year. This increase in modern slavery offences is in part due to an improved recording of modern slavery since the introduction of this new offence category in July 20158. A 2016 report by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner was critical of the ongoing under-recording of such offences, noting that whilst 8849 modern slavery offences were recorded in the year ending March 2016, there was over three times that number of referrals (3,146) to the National Referral Mechanism over the same period and that the number of recorded offences did not fully reflect the true extent of modern slavery in England and Wales. It is likely that the subsequent increase in the number of crimes recorded in this category reflects growing awareness and improving recording processes within the police service with respect to the recording of modern slavery offences.

The increase in the “violence with injury” sub-category includes a 7% rise in the number of attempted murder offences (a volume increase of 46); these figures may also have been influenced by improvements in crime recording. Attempted murder rose in 19 of the 44 police forces (including the British Transport Police) in England and Wales, in the year ending December 2016. Prior to the recent improvements in recording practices, it is possible that some police officers may have been applying Crown Prosecution Service charging standards (guidelines on what charges should be brought against suspects) when deciding what type of crime to record, rather than basing the decision on the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR), which require offences to be recorded in line with the criminal offence committed. Attempted murder is an important example of this potential issue, as offences may have previously been recorded (and charged) as another type of violent crime that is easier to prove in court, such as “assault with intent to cause serious harm.”

All police forces recorded a rise in violence in the latest year compared with the previous year. In percentage terms, the largest increase was reported by Northumbria Police, which recorded an increase of 75%, which was an additional 13,470 offences compared with the previous year (up to 31,476). Other large percentage increases included Durham Constabulary (up 70% to 13,145 offences), West Yorkshire Police (up 40% to 62,402 offences), and Avon and Somerset Constabulary (up 37% to 36,759 offences), as shown in Tables P1 and P2. When interpreting these figures, it is important to bare in mind that these increases will reflect recording improvements and the extent of such effects is likely to differ across police forces.

A number of forces have indicated that the rise in recorded violence is a result of a greater proportion of reports of crime being recorded rather than a genuine rise in violent crime. For example, data from the Metropolitan Police Service showed that while police recorded violence against the person increased by 7% in the latest year, the number of “calls for service” (for example, emergency and non-emergency calls from members of the public) relating to violent crime decreased by around 2% over the same period.

Domestic abuse

Another possible factor behind the rise in police recorded violent offences is an increase in the reporting of domestic abuse and the subsequent recording of these offences by the police. In 2015, an HMIC report detailed the improvements in the police response to domestic abuse that had taken place across England and Wales. It concluded that recent increases in the number of domestic abuse-related crimes were due, in part, to police forces improving their recording of domestic abuse incidents as crimes, and to forces actively encouraging victims to come forward to report these crimes.

The Home Office has been collecting information from the police, since April 2015, on whether recorded offences are related to domestic abuse. Crimes should be “flagged” as being domestic abuse-related by the police if the offence meets the government definition of domestic violence and abuse10. Data for the year ending December 2016 showed that violence against the person offences were the most likely to be flagged, with 32% of such offences flagged as domestic abuse-related. The offence group with the next highest proportion of offences flagged was sexual offences at 13%, as shown in Figure 4.

At present, less than 2 years of data on offences flagged by the police as being domestic abuse-related are available and it is therefore not possible to compare the year-on-year change.

Since the year ending March 2005, the CSEW has included a self-completion questionnaire module on intimate violence, for persons aged 16 to 59 only, which provides a measure of the proportion of people who have been victims of domestic abuse in this age group over time.

Estimates from the self-completion section published in the Domestic abuse in England and Wales, year ending March 2016 release showed that the proportion of all adults aged 16 to 59 who had been victims of domestic abuse in the last year (including attempted offences) had remained the same as for the previous survey year (both 6.1%). Prior to this, changes in prevalence from year to year have been small and not statistically significant, although the cumulative effect of these changes over a number of years has resulted in a statistically significant lower prevalence for the year ending March 2016 (6.1%) compared with the year ending March 2012 (7.0%), indicating a longer-term underlying downward trend (Table S41).

Data from the year ending March 2016 survey year showed that women, and especially younger women, were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than other demographic groups, for example, 11.9% of women aged 16 to 19 were victims, for the time period year ending March 2014 to year ending March 2016. In comparison, 6.1% of all adults and 6.9% of men aged 16 to 19 were victims of domestic abuse for the same time period. Further details are published in Domestic abuse in England and Wales, year ending March 2016.

Homicide

Unlike many other offences in the “violence against the person” category, the quality of recording of homicides is thought to have remained consistently good.

The police recorded 697 homicides in the latest year, 121 more (21% increase) than in the previous year , as shown in Tables F3a and F3b11,12. However, the 697 homicides recorded in the year ending December 2016 include the 96 cases of manslaughter that resulted from events in Hillsborough in 1989; excluding these cases, the number of homicides increased by 4%.

Historically, the number of homicides increased from around 300 per year in the early 1960s to over 800 per year in the early years of this century, which was at a faster rate than population growth over that period. Over the past decade, the volume of homicides has generally decreased while the population of England and Wales has continued to grow. The rate of homicide has fallen by just under one-third (30%) between the year ending March 2006 and the year ending March 2016, from 14 homicides per 1 million of the population to 10 homicides per 1 million. For the latest year (year ending December 2016), the rate was 12 homicides per 1 million. Excluding the 96 Hillsborough cases, the rate remained at 10 homicides per 1 million population.

There is more detailed information on trends and the circumstances of violence in Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016. Information on violent crimes such as modern slavery and female genital mutilation (FGM) is available in the “Violent crime” section of the Crime in England and Wales: year ending September 2015 release. The latest statistics published relating to “hate crime” were released by the Home Office in Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2015 to 2016.

Notes for: Latest violent crime figures continue to present a complex picture

  1. “Disclosure of private sexual photographs and films with the intent to cause distress or anxiety” and “Sending letters with intent to cause distress or anxiety.”
  2. This includes seven offences of corporate manslaughter relating to the Croydon tram derailment.
  3. The 96 offences of manslaughter were recorded in the year ending June 2016 figures, and not in 1989, due to the result of the recent inquest into the events.
  4. There are some closely-related offences in the police recorded crime series, such as public order offences, that have no identifiable victim and are contained within the “Other crimes against society” category.
  5. The two additional harassment offences are included within all 4 quarters (12 months data) for the latest year (ending December 2016), while the comparator year data (ending December 2015) only includes these additional offences in 3 quarters. In future quarterly releases, the comparator year will begin to include the additional harassment offences in more quarters and we therefore expect to see the extent of the increase in the “violence without injury” subcategory lessen.
  6. In addition to letters, this offence also covers electronic communications such as emails, text messages and those sent via social media.
  7. Based on data from 40 forces supplied via the Home Office Data Hub.
  8. This new offence category includes offences previously included under other offence types. More information can be found in the attached notes to Appendix Table A4.
  9. Figures for the year ending March 2016 have been revised slightly since publication of the report from 884 modern slavery offences to 882.
  10. Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
  11. Homicide includes the offences of murder, manslaughter, corporate manslaughter and infanticide. Figures from the Homicide Index for the time period April 2014 to March 2016, which take account of further police investigations and court outcomes, were published in Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016 on 9 February 2016.
  12. This includes seven offences of corporate manslaughter relating to the Croydon train crash.
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8. Crime Survey for England and Wales sexual offences unchanged and rise in police recorded offences slowing

Main findings

The most recent estimates from the self-completion questionnaire module in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) on intimate violence (for the year ending March 2016) showed that the proportion of adults aged 16 to 59 who had been victims of sexual assaults in the last year (including attempted offences) had not statistically significantly changed between the year ending March 2016 (2.0%, equivalent to 645,000 victims) and the year ending March 2015 (1.7%).

There was an increase of 12% in sexual offences recorded by the police in the year ending December 2016 (up to 116,012 offences) compared with the previous year. It is not thought that police recorded crime data currently provide a reliable indication of trends in sexual offences. The increases are believed to have resulted, in part, from an improvement in the recording of sexual offences by the police, with police forces also reporting an increased willingness of victims to come forward and report these crimes.

Crime Survey for England and Wales

Due to the small number of sexual offences identified in the face-to-face interview section of the CSEW, estimates of the volume of incidents are prone to fluctuation and therefore not included in the main CSEW estimate of crime. Since the year ending March 2005, the CSEW has included a self-completion module on intimate violence, for persons aged 16 to 59 only, which provides an improved measure of the proportion of people in this age group who have been victims of sexual offences. The upper age limit of 59 for the self-completion module may be increased or removed entirely from April 2017 following new development work.

The most recent headline estimates from this self-completion section of the CSEW, from the year ending March 2016 (published in the Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016 release) showed that the proportion of all adults aged 16 to 59 who had been victims of sexual assaults in the last year (including attempted offences) had not significantly changed between the latest survey year (2.0%) and the previous survey year (1.7%). These figures have remained at around 2.0% since the survey year ending March 2009, albeit with some year-on-year fluctuation (Appendix Table 4.05).

Police recorded crime

There was an increase of 12% in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police in the latest year compared with the previous year (up to 116,012, as shown in Tables F6a and F6b). Sexual offences have reached the highest volume recorded since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in April 2002. The rate of year-on-year increases, however, has slowed over recent quarters, and the latest increase is considerably less than that seen between the 2014 and 2015 calendar years (29%).

Police recorded rape increased by 13% (to 39,335 offences) compared with the previous year, while other sexual offences increased by 12% (to 76,677). Offence categories that directly relate to sexual offences against children1 contributed just over one-third (36%) to the total increase in the number of sexual offences recorded by the police.

Between the year ending March 2008 and the year ending March 2013, the trend in sexual offences was broadly flat with small increases recorded in some years. Since the year ending March 2013, police recorded sexual offences have risen consistently. In the year ending March 2014, the increases were generally driven by a rise in the recording of non-recent offences (those that took place more than 12 months before being recorded by the police). While non-recent offences remain an important contributor to the latest rise, it was largely due to increases in current offences (those that took place within 12 months of being recorded by the police)2.

Overall, the increases are believed to have resulted from both an improvement in the recording of sexual offences by the police and an increased willingness of victims to come forward and report these crimes to the police, and hence we feel these data do not currently provide a reliable indication of trends in sexual offences.

The Crime-recording: making the victim count report, published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in late 2014, found that sexual offences had been substantially under-recorded (by 26% nationally) and led to police forces reviewing and improving their recording processes. Additionally, the high-profile coverage of sexual offences and the police response to reports of non-recent sexual offending (for example, through Operation Yewtree which began in 2012) are likely to have had an effect on the willingness of victims to come forward and report offences of this nature.

More recently, the high-profile coverage of historical child sexual offence allegations by former footballers, alongside a dedicated police operation set up to investigate these, is likely to have an ongoing influence on victims’ willingness to come forward.

Police recorded sexual offences represent a small proportion of all victim-based crime (excluding fraud; 3.2% in the latest year) and therefore changes do not substantially affect the overall victim-based police recorded crime trend. Figure 5 illustrates that there have been almost continual year-on-year increases in the proportion of police recorded victim-based crime comprising sexual offences since the year ending March 2003 (1.0%), with the only exception being the year ending March 2007. These increases have become more pronounced over the last 4 years (more than doubling over this period, from 1.5% in the year ending March 2012 to 3.2% in the latest survey year).

More information on interpreting longer-term trends in these offences can be found in An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales and Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016.

Notes for: Crime Survey for England and Wales sexual offences unchanged and rise in police recorded offences slowing

  1. This includes “Rape of a male or female child under 16”, “Rape of a male or female child under 13”, “Sexual assault on a male or female child under 13”, “Sexual activity involving a child under 13 or under 16” and “Abuse of children through sexual exploitation”.
  2. Based on findings from the Home Office Data Hub; these were discussed in detail in Crime in England and Wales, period ending March 2014.
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9. Police recorded offences involving weapons rise

Some of the more serious offences in the police recorded crime data (violence against the person, robbery and sexual offences) can be broken down by whether or not a knife or sharp instrument was involved1.

Data are also available for police recorded crimes involving the use of firearms (that is, if a firearm is fired, used as a blunt instrument, or used as a threat).

As offences involving the use of weapons are relatively low in volume, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) is not able to provide reliable estimates for numbers of such incidents.

Main findings

In the latest year, the police recorded a 14% increase in offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, compared with the previous year. While it is difficult to be certain what has driven this rise, as these figures can be influenced by a wide range of factors, the available evidence suggests improvements in recording practices, as well as an actual rise in knife crime, are both likely to have contributed.

Offences involving firearms in the latest year also increased, by 13% compared with the previous year.

Offences involving knives or sharp instruments2

In the latest year, the police recorded 32,448 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument, a 14% increase3 compared with the previous year (28,427). The past 2 years have seen a rise in the number of offences involving a knife or sharp instrument recorded. There was a general downward trend in this series over the longer-term, with falls seen between the years ending March 2011 and March 2014. The latest figures show the volume of offences returning to levels similar to those seen in year ending March 2011, the earliest point for which comparable data for all forces are available.

The majority of the offence categories for which data are collected showed increases. The category of “assault with injury and assault with intent to cause serious harm” showed the largest rise in terms of volume of offences (from 14,783 to 16,747, up 13%), and notable rises were also seen in robbery (from 10,581 to 12,037, up 14%) and threats to kill (from 2,039 to 2,606, up 28%). The rise in robbery was more pronounced than that seen in the last quarter (5%), mirroring recent increases in the category as a whole.

The majority of police forces (33 of the 44) recorded a rise in offences involving knives and sharp instruments compared with the previous year. The force that showed the largest volume increase was the Metropolitan Police (accounting for 28% of the increase in England and Wales). Data for police force areas are published in the Home Office’s knife crime open data table4.

While in the past offences involving a knife were generally not thought to be prone to changes in recording practices, some forces have suggested that recording practice improvements may have been a factor contributing to the recent increases.

However, there has also been some indication, particularly in relation to more serious offences involving an injury to the victim, that the latest rise may represent a real change to the downward trend seen in recent years. Admissions data for NHS hospitals in England5, for example, showed a 13% increase in admissions for assault by a sharp object, from 3,590 in the year ending March 2015 to 4,054 in the year ending March 2016. More recent data from the London Ambulance Service (for the year ending July 2016, compared with the year ending July 2015) also shows a 3% rise in ambulance calls for service resulting from assaults involving a knife injury6.

Police recorded “possession of an article with a blade or point” offences also rose by 19% to 13,105 offences in the latest year. This rise is consistent with increases seen over the last 3 years, but levels remain below those seen a decade ago. This figure can often be influenced by increases in targeted police action in relation to knife crime, which is most likely to occur at times when rises in offences involving knives are seen. The category of “aggravated burglary”, which captures offences of burglary involving the use of a weapon, also increased over this period (up by 31% to 2,075).

Taking everything into account, it suggests the picture is a complex one, with rises in offences involving knives reflecting both improvements in recording practices but also a genuine rise in knife crime in some areas.

Further analysis on offences involving knives or sharp instruments has been published in Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016.

Offences involving firearms

Similar to the breakdown of offences involving knives or sharp instruments, statistics are available for police recorded crimes involving the use of firearms7. Firearms are taken to be involved in an offence if they are fired, used as a blunt instrument against a person, or used as a threat. Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: year ending March 2016 has more detailed information on trends and the circumstances of offences involving firearms, including figures based on a broader definition of the types of firearm involved8.

Offences involving firearms in the latest year increased by 13% (to 5,864) compared with the previous year. This was mainly driven by a 15% increase in offences involving handguns (rising from 2,162 to 2,497), and partly by a 28% increase in offences involving shotguns (from 416 to 532) and a 10% increase in offences involving imitation weapons (such as BB guns9; from 1,379 to 1,523)10. The recent increase in offences involving handguns is driven by increases in a small number of mainly urban forces. The increase in overall firearm offences comes after a general downward trend, with the overall level being 47% below its peak (in the year ending March 2006; Figure 6).

Recent increases have also been reflected in admissions data for NHS hospitals in England11, which showed increases in all three categories of assault by firearm discharge12, from 86 admissions in the year ending March 2015 to 109 admissions in the year ending March 2016. Data from the London Ambulance Service showed a small rise in ambulance calls for service resulting from assaults involving a gun injury, from 123 to 128 (for the year ending July 2016, compared with the year ending July 2015; this overlaps with the first 7 months of the crime figures reported in this bulletin)13. Given the small numbers involved and the nature of these data, they will only reflect trends in a small sub-set of crimes covering the most serious offences.

Notes for: Police recorded offences involving weapons rise

  1. These are: homicide; attempted murder; threats to kill; assault with injury and assault with intent to cause serious harm; robbery; rape; and sexual assault.
  2. A sharp instrument is any object that pierces the skin (or in the case of a threat, is capable of piercing the skin), for example a broken bottle.
  3. An audit into the recording of knife and sharp instrument offences by Thames Valley Police has revealed that they had been under-counting these offences since the introduction of their new recording system in April 2014. Data for year ending March 2016 were revised, but data for the previous year (ending March 2015) were not.
  4. This source excludes homicides committed using a knife or sharp instrument.
  5. NHS Hospital Episode Statistics, Admitted Patient Care - England, 2014 to 2015; NHS Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity, 2015 to 2016.
  6. Monthly Ambulance Service Incidents, Ward, July 2016, contains details of London Ambulance Service incidents, between August 2015 and July 2016, by type of injury.
  7. Firearms include shotguns; handguns; rifles; imitation weapons such as BB guns or soft air weapons; other weapons such as CS gas or pepper spray and stun guns; and unidentified weapons. These figures exclude conventional air weapons, such as air rifles.
  8. The broader definition of firearms includes conventional air weapons, such as air rifles.
  9. A type of air gun that fires spherical projectiles.
  10. It is not always possible to identify the type of firearm used. The police will record which type of weapon has been used in an offence given the evidence available (such as descriptions given by victims or witnesses). Some imitation weapons are so realistic that they are indistinguishable from a real firearm. In the absence of sufficient information to classify the firearm, the police will record the weapon as an “unidentified firearm.”
  11. NHS Hospital Episode Statistics, Admitted Patient Care - England, 2014 to 2015; NHS Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity, 2015 to 2016.
  12. Firearm discharge admissions categories are: “assault by handgun discharge”, “assault by rifle, shotgun and larger firearm discharge” and “assault by other and unspecified firearm discharge.”
  13. Monthly Ambulance Service Incidents, Ward, July 2016, contains details of London Ambulance Service incidents, between August 2015 and July 2016, by type of injury.
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10. Do the rises in theft offences recorded by the police reflect a genuine rise in crime?

The theft offences category of police recorded crime covers a range of acquisitive crimes including burglary, vehicle offences (principally theft of and theft from a motor vehicle), theft from the person, as well as theft of unattended items. Robbery, which is theft (or attempted theft) involving the use or threat of force, is covered in a separate category. However, since it is a similar type of offence and the motivation to commit a robbery will normally be the acquisition of money or property, the latest robbery trends are also covered in this section.

Recent trends in recorded theft offences

The latest police recorded crime figures show that there were 1,820,079 theft offences recorded in the year ending December 2016, a 4% increase compared with the previous year. Increases were seen across all theft categories, but were most marked in vehicle offences (up 8%, from 361,296 to 389,371) and shoplifting (up 8%, from 332,891 to 358,235). Both of these offence categories have seen rising numbers of crimes recorded over the last 2 to 3 years, though these latest increases were larger than any other year-on-year increases seen during this period.

Similarly, the latest rise in theft from the person offences (which were up by 6%, from 81,434 to 86,548) was also a continuation of an upward trend seen over the last 2 years. However, in the case of other categories of theft, increases in the number of recorded crimes have emerged more recently. Domestic burglary increased by 4% (up to 200,659 offences) and robbery rose by 10% compared with the previous year.

These latest increases should be seen in the context of a longer-term declining trend in theft offences (Figure 7). The current level remains 34% lower than in the year ending March 2006 (Table 2). A smaller (2%) rise in theft offences was reported in the last quarterly bulletin and this was the first time an increase had been recorded since the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in April 2002. However, the latest rises in theft offences are relatively small, and expressed as a number of offences per head of population, crime rates show little change compared with the previous year (Table A7).

Factors that may have contributed to rising theft

There are a range of factors that might lie behind the rise in some categories of theft. As observed in other categories of recorded crime, trends may have been influenced by improvements in recording practice by the police. Other factors could be increased reporting by victims and a genuine rise in levels of crime.

Concerning the potential impact of improved crime recording practices, in the last 2 to 3 years, there has been a focus on improving the quality of crime recording by the police. Inspections published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in 2014 found "unacceptably low" standards of crime recording, such that the police were not recording many crimes that they should have been. Levels of under-recording were found to have been particularly pronounced in violent crime and sexual offences, where the police were judged to have under-recorded by 33% and 24% respectively. While the HMIC inspections found some evidence of under-recording in crime categories involving theft, these were found to be lower, with the police having failed to record 11% of burglaries and14% of robberies that should have been recorded. Thus, while it is likely that improved recording has been a factor in the recent rise in theft offences, there is less scope for increases in these offences to have resulted solely from recording improvements.

With regard to reporting rates, there is no evidence of there having been a statistically significant increase in reporting rates over the last year. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) for the year ending March 2016 showed that theft of vehicles tends to have high levels of reporting to the police (95%). Rates of reporting for burglary with entry (70%), theft from person (34%) and robbery (60%) are lower so the scope for increased reporting is greater for these type of offences (Table D8).

In contrast to the police recorded crime figures, the latest data from the CSEW continue to show falls in theft, with the estimated number of theft offences having declined by 10% compared with the previous year (Table 1a). However, this does not necessarily mean that we can conclude that increases in police recorded crime do not reflect a genuine rise in crime. While the CSEW provides a robust measure of long-term trends, it is less reliable for providing an indication of emerging trends. This is in part due to the time lag arising from the 12-month recall period1 and also due to the natural variability arising from any sample survey.

On balance, the evidence suggests that rises in domestic burglary, vehicle offences, theft from the person and robbery are likely to reflect a combination of factors. While recording improvements may have been a contributory factor, these figures are also likely to be indicative of a genuine rise in these types of crime. However, despite this recent increase, these rates of crime remain substantially lower than a decade ago.

Notes for: Do the rises in theft offences recorded by the police reflect a genuine rise in crime?

  1. The lag effect on the CSEW relates to the reference period used in the survey interview. Respondents are asked about crimes they experienced in the 12 months prior to the interview. Since the earliest interviews in the current survey year took place in January 2016, the latest estimates are based on crimes occurring between January 2015 and November 2016. Further information on the survey reference period is available in Chapter 2 of the User Guide to Crime Statistics for England and Wales.
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12. Quality and methodology

Data sources – coverage and coherence: Crime Survey for England and Wales

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW; previously known as the British Crime Survey) is a face-to-face survey in which people resident in households in England and Wales are asked about their experiences of crime in the 12 months prior to the interview. It covers both children aged 10 to 15 and adults aged 16 and over, but does not cover those living in communal establishments (such as care homes, student halls of residence and prisons), or crimes against commercial or public sector bodies.

The CSEW is able to capture a broad range of victim-based crimes1 experienced by those interviewed, not just those that have been reported to, and recorded by, the police. It covers a broad range of victim-based crimes experienced by the resident household population. However, there are some serious, but relatively low-volume offences, such as homicide and sexual offences, which are not included in its main estimates. Although, at the end of the main interview there is a self-completion element (via a tablet computer), where adults aged 16 to 59 are asked about their experience of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and these results are reported separately2.

A major strength of the CSEW has been its ability to compare crime types over time and for this reason, the CSEW has changed little over the last 30 years. However, the way in which criminals are operating is changing and they can now take advantage of new technologies, such as the internet, to both expand the scope of existing crime types and develop new ones. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in fraud and cybercrime. As questions aimed at identifying fraud and other cyber offences were not part of the original survey design, it had not previously been possible to include these new offences in the main estimate of CSEW crime.

To address this issue, new questions relating to fraud and computer misuse were introduced to half the survey sample from October 2015. Sufficient data have now been gathered to produce estimates of fraud and computer misuse and these are published within the “Crime in England and Wales” release again this quarter, after being published first in the year ending March 2016 quarterly bulletin and again in the year ending June 2016 quarterly bulletin. Details regarding the process in obtaining these new fraud and computer misuse estimates are available in the CSEW Fraud and Cyber-crime Development: Field Trial.

Since it began, the CSEW has been conducted by an independent (from government or the police) survey research organisation using trained interviewers to collect data from sampled respondents; the interviewers have no vested interest in the results of the survey. For the crime types and population groups it covers, the CSEW has a consistent methodology and is unaffected by changes in levels of public reporting to the police, recording practice or police activity. As such, the survey is widely seen to operate as an independent reality-check of the police figures. The independence of the survey has been further strengthened by the transfer of responsibility from the Home Office to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in April 2012.

The CSEW has a higher number of reported offences than police recorded crime, as the survey is able to capture all offences by those interviewed, not just those that have been reported to the police and then recorded. However, it does cover a narrower range of offences than the police recorded crime collection.

In 2009, the CSEW was extended to cover children aged 10 to 15 and this release also incorporates results from this element of the survey. However, the main analysis and commentary is restricted to adults and households due to the long time series for which comparable data are available.

The CSEW has a nationally representative sample of around 35,000 adults and 3,000 children (aged 10 to 15 years) per year. The response rates for the survey year ending March 2016 were 72% for adults and 66% for children. The survey is weighted to adjust for possible non-response bias and to ensure the sample reflects the profile of the general population.

Data sources – coverage and coherence: Police recorded crime and other sources

Police recorded crime figures are restricted to a subset of notifiable offences that have been reported to and recorded by the police. Therefore, while the police recorded crime series covers a wider population and a broader3 set of offences than the CSEW, it does not include crimes that do not come to the attention of the police or are not recorded by them.

Police recorded crime figures are supplied by the 43 territorial police forces of England and Wales, plus the British Transport Police, via the Home Office, to us. Data on fraud are sourced from Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre; Cifas, the UK-wide fraud and financial crime prevention service; and Financial Fraud Action UK, who co-ordinate fraud prevention activity for the financial services industry.

Police recorded crime is the principal source of subnational crime statistics and for relatively serious, but low-volume, crimes that are not well measured by a sample survey. It covers victims (including, for example, residents of institutions and tourists as well as the resident population) and sectors (for example, commercial bodies) excluded from the CSEW sample. Recorded crime has a wider coverage of offences, for example, covering homicide, sexual offences and crimes without a specific, identifiable victim (referred to as “other crimes against society”) not included in the main CSEW crime count. Police recorded crime also provides good measures of well-reported crimes but does not cover any crimes that are not reported to, or discovered by, the police. It is also affected by changes in reporting and recording practices. Like any administrative data, police recorded crime will be affected by the rules governing the recording of data, by the systems in place and by operational decisions in respect of the allocation of resources.

As well as the main police recorded crime series, there are additional collections providing detail on offences involving the use of knives and firearms, which are too low in volume to be measured reliably by the CSEW.

Accuracy of the statistics: Crime Survey for England and Wales

Since the CSEW is based on a sample of the population, estimates have a margin of quantifiable and non-quantifiable error associated with them. Non-quantifiable error includes:

  • when respondents have recalled crimes in the reference period that actually occurred outside that period (“telescoping”)
  • crimes that did occur in the reference period that were not mentioned at all (either because respondents failed to recall a fairly trivial incident or, conversely, because they did not want to disclose an incident, such as a domestic assault)
  • respondents saying they reported crimes to police when they did not (a “socially desirable” response)
  • some incidents reported during the interview being miscoded (‘interviewer or coder error’)

Unless stated otherwise, all changes in CSEW estimates described in the main text are statistically significant at the 5% level. Since the CSEW estimates are based on a sample survey, it is good practice to publish confidence intervals alongside them; these provide a measure of the reliability of the estimates and can be found in the User Guide tables. Further information on statistical significance can be found in Chapter 8 of the User Guide.

Accuracy of the statistics: Police recorded crime

Police recorded crime figures are a by-product of a live administrative system that is continually being updated as incidents are logged as crimes and subsequently investigated. The police return provisional figures to the Home Office on a monthly basis and each month they may supply revised totals for previously supplied months. The Home Office Crime and Policing Statistics team undertake a series of validation checks on receipt of the data and query outliers with forces who may then re-submit data. Details of these validation checks are given in Section 3.3 of the User Guide, and the differences in data published between the current and preceding publications can be found in Table QT1a.

Police recording practice is governed by the Home Office Counting Rules (HOCR) and the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS). The HOCR have existed in some form since the 1920s, with substantial changes in 1998. The NCRS was introduced in April 2002 following a critical report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) in 2000 (Povey, 2000), which showed that there was a problem with differing interpretation of the HOCR that resulted in inconsistent recording practices across forces.

Following an assessment of crime statistics by the UK Statistics Authority, published in January 2014, the statistics based on police recorded crime data have been found not to meet the required standard for designation as National Statistics.

In their report, the UK Statistics Authority set out 16 requirements that needed addressing for the statistics to meet National Statistics standards. We are working in collaboration with the Home Office Crime and Policing Statistics team and HMIC to address these requirements. A summary of actions taken in response to these requirements is available.

Full details on the history of the assessment and auditing of the quality and accuracy of police recorded crime statistics carried out in recent years is given in Section 3.3 of the User Guide. Since the UK Statistics Authority assessment decision, HMIC have undertaken an inspection of the integrity of police recorded crime (carried out between December 2013 and August 2014), which reviewed a total of 10,267 reports of crime recorded between November 2012 and October 2013 across all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

The final report on findings from the HMIC inspections, Crime-recording: Making the Victim Count, was published on 18 November 2014 and separate crime data integrity force reports for each of the 43 police forces in England and Wales were published on 28 August 2014.

HMIC concluded that, across England and Wales as a whole, an estimated 1 in 5 offences (19%) that should have been recorded as crimes were not. The greatest levels of under-recording were seen for violence against the person offences (33%) and sexual offences (26%). However, there was considerable variation in the level of under-recording across the different offence types investigated. For other crime types: an estimated 14% of criminal damage and arson offences that should have been recorded as crimes were not; 14% of robbery offences; 11% of burglary offences; and 17% of other offences (excluding fraud)4.

In November 2015, HMIC wrote to all Chief Constables advising them that they would be commencing an unannounced programme of rolling inspections of crime recording on an ongoing basis. Reports on these inspections will be published on a rolling basis and can be found on the HMIC website.

The renewed focus on the quality of crime recording means that caution is needed when interpreting statistics on police recorded crime. While we know that it is likely that improvements in compliance with the NCRS have led to increases in the number of crimes recorded by the police, it is not possible to quantify the scale of this, or assess how this effect varied between different police forces. In volume terms, police recorded crime for England and Wales as a whole has increased by 9% in the latest year compared with the previous year and 43 police forces (including the British Transport Police) have recorded overall increases in levels of crime.

Apparent increases in police force area data may reflect a number of factors, including tightening of recording practice, increases in reporting by victims and also genuine increases in the levels of crime. It is thought that incidents of violence are more open to subjective judgements about recording and thus more prone to changes in police practice. A number of forces have also shown large increases in sexual offences, which are thought to reflect both a greater willingness among victims to report such crimes and improved compliance with recording standards for sexual offences.

More information regarding the coverage, coherence and accuracy of the CSEW and police recorded crime can be found in the User Guide to Crime Statistics for England and Wales, the Crime Statistics Quality and Methodology Information report and (for CSEW only) the CSEW technical report.

Notes for: Quality and methodology

  1. Victim-based crimes are those offences with a specific identifiable victim. These include the CSEW categories of “violence”, “robbery”, “theft offences”, “criminal damage” (and recently “fraud” and “computer misuse”) and the police recorded crime categories of “violence against the person”’, “sexual offences”, “robbery”, “theft offences” and “criminal damage and arson”.
  2. Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences: Year ending March 2016 has more detailed information.
  3. The coverage of police recorded crime is defined by the Notifiable Offence List, which includes all indictable and triable-either-way-offences (offences which could be tried at a Crown Court) and a few additional closely related summary offences (which would be dealt with by magistrates’ courts). Appendix 1 of the User Guide has more information on the classifications used for notifiable crimes recorded by the police.
  4. The range of crime recording accuracy for each of the crime types listed was positive or negative three. For more information, see Section 7.51 of the HMIC publication Crime-recording: Making the Victim Count.
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13. Background notes

  1. The Crime in England and Wales quarterly releases are produced in partnership with the Home Office who collate and quality assure the police recorded crime data presented in the bulletins. Home Office colleagues also quality assure the overall content of the bulletin.

  2. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. They undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference.

  3. The UK Statistics Authority has designated this statistical bulletin as a National Statistics output, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.

  4. However, statistics based on police recorded crime data have been assessed against the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and found not to meet the required standard for designation as National Statistics. The full assessment report can be found on the UK Statistics Authority website.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

John Flatley
crimestatistics@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7592 8695