Study shows strong link between police numbers and crime

A study has shown a strong negative correlation between police numbers & crime, contradicting police minister Nick Herbert's claim that "there is no such link".

Update 1725hrs

The independent fact checking website Full Fact have issued a cautionary note over the international crime trends data:

“… are these figures all they are cracked up to be? The figures are derived from the European Sourcebook of Crime Statistics, but the notes accompanying the tables used by Civitas suggest the comparisons are not as straightforward as the graph suggests.

“Firstly, because the crime figures are based on recorded crime they are affected by different classifications and recording methods between countries. This creates problems using the ‘total crime’ numbers. For instance, some countries include traffic offences in their recorded crime figures, while others do not.

“This means that for Finland there are 3,894 offences recorded per 100,000 population in 2007 relating to traffic, while for other countries these figures were excluded completely.

“As the report itself explains this is one of the reasons why the total crime figure ‘should not be used for detailed, country by country, level comparisons’. The other problems with the use of the recorded crime figures is the difference in the stage of the criminal process that a crime gets recorded…

“The problems don’t just apply to the crime figures. There are also difficulties in comparing the number of officers, due to the different nature of police work in different countries.

“For instance some countries include the numbers of Gendarmerie in their police officer figures, but such officers do not dischage duties that may traditionally be classed as police work… This means that countries that include such officers in the numbers of police without getting the resultant boost in crime fighting powers…

“While not showing that the Civitas is wrong to claim that there is a link between police numbers and crime these caveats question whether the comparison is the indisputable proof of the existence of this link…”

Responding to the Full Fact report, Nick Cowen, one of the researchers of the Civitas briefing, told Left Foot Forward:

“Full Fact are right to point out that the data is far from perfect, there are anomalies that you will see from one country to another – but those anomalies don’t explain the correlation between recorded crime and police officers.

“Even when you take out certain countries the general trend is still there. It’s not definitive but suggestive. Academic research has shown that the risk of conviction is a factor.

“As we said in the briefing, ‘Establishing firm causal relationships is notoriously difficult in criminology. However, crime rates have been consistently negatively correlated with key measures of police effectiveness.'”

A study of international crime trends, out today, shows a strong negative correlation between police numbers and recorded crime – contradicting police minister Nick Herbert’s claim that “there is no such link” and that “anyone and no respectable academic would make a simple link between the increase in the numbers of police officers and what has happened to crime”.

The Civitas briefing paper, titled “2011: the start of a great decade for criminals?” used data from across Europe to show the link, and said that the government’s 20 per cent real terms reduction in police funding over the course of this parliament was “likely to involve dramatic staff reductions, including of frontline police officers”, and that as a result, “this cut might turn out to be costly for the British public”.

The paper concludes:

“While police numbers and resources are far from the only contributor to police effectiveness, it seems highly unlikely that the swingeing cuts now being enacted will be made without significantly decreasing detection rates.

“The result will be that offenders will be able to engage in criminal acts with a reduced risk of being caught and sanctioned, making criminal acts less risky and more attractive for potential offenders.

“As a result, it is possible that recent falls in crime will be halted or even reversed. Members of the public are at greater risk of crime in the coming year.”

Responding to the figures, shadow policing minister Vernon Coaker said:

“This report is quite right to point out that, contrary to what the Conservative Policing Minister believes, the number of police officers does have an impact on crime levels.

“Of course the level of crime is affected by lots of things, but is it absurd to pretend that the number of police officers doesn’t make a significant difference in preventing and tackling crime. It is no coincidence that under Labour police numbers rose and crime fell, even during a recession.

“Cutting police funding by twenty per cent is a reckless and risky move by the Conservative-led government. We are already seeing thousands of police jobs being lost which will undermine the fight against crime and anti-social behaviour in all our communities.”

Also today, shadow home secretary Ed Balls said the cuts to policing put the Royal wedding “at risk of terror attacks”. Mr Balls told the Mirror:

“What they are doing is very dangerous and very risky. There is no doubt we will be running greater risks because we will be undermining frontline policing and security…

“[These are] the largest cuts to policing in peacetime for more than 100 years. The idea that at the same time as a rising security threat you’re cutting police budgets on this scale is very worrying.

“You will see tens of thousands of police officers, community support officers and backroom staff taken off the beat and out of their jobs in the next one or two years. The combination of rising threat, huge cuts and radical and unpopular reform is very dangerous.”

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