AND SHORT-TERM CRIME TRENDS IN ENGLAND AND
WALES, HOUNSLOW AND CHISWICK
Marris is a retired economics Professor of
London University who live in Chiswick and
currently works for the Home Office in the
study of crime trends
to the Facts
reasons which are not understood, crime figures
jump about. If you read that a certain type
of crime in a certain area is 'up 5%', the
simple reason may be that in the previous year
the figure fell by 5%, so over the two years
the actual trend was flat.
are three kinds of crime statistics: Reported
Crime, Recorded Crime and Victim-Reported Crime.
reported crime is anything which happens
whereby the public reports to the police
that a crime is being or has been committed.
A recorded crime is anything which happens
which leads the police to record a crime
in their statistics.
victim-reported crime is an event which
has a victim and is reported as such in
a household survey, such as the British
Police have discretion as to whether to decide
that a reported crime should be recorded. Eg
a publican calls the police because there is
a brawl. They arrive and find a number of young
men with black eyes, bloody noses and slashed
cheeks. But all refuse to press charges. What
should be recorded?
the past the answer has varied from crime to
crime, police force to police force and from
time to time. Government has now imposed standardisation,
with two effects - a greater proportion of
reported crimes will be recorded and the changeover
is being made by different police forces at
makes recent recorded crime figures difficult
to interpret. It is my impression that at least
in respect of some crimes, the Hounslow and
Chiswick police district made the changeover
between February and April this year (2002).
This would explain the otherwise unexplained
near-doubling of cases of Common Assault recorded
by police in the Borough between those two
months. (See Chart 3 below).
BCS (ie Victim-Reported) data are much more
reliable because they don't suffer the above-described
problem and also include some, but not all
actual crimes which for one reason or another
have not been reported to the police.
the BCS report is necessarily about nine months
in arrears. The recent publication in July
gave annual figures relating to the period
corresponding to the financial year 2001/2,
i.e. figures that indicate the general situation
around November last.
contrast, Scotland Yard has kindly provided
me with our police district's detailed Recorded
crime data on a month-to-month basis up to
lets start by looking at some BCS national
figures and then, with caution, at the more
recent Recorded figures. (See Chart 1.)
from homes reached a peak in 1995 and has since
been falling steadily.
from Cars has behaved erratically. It exploded
in 1999, has since fallen back but is still
running a little higher than in 1991.
where the attacker is not known to the victim
and where robbery is not the apparent motive
(i.e., typically fighting among young men,
legally classified as Common Assault) doesn't
seem to show any significant trend. By contrast,
Common Assault as such, having also reached
a peak in mid nineties, is, in these figures,
falling sharply. As will be seen, this victim-reported
national story is strongly different from the
police-recorded local story.
Mugging (bag-snatching and taking property
by violence or threat of violence), because
the total numbers are smaller than for the
other crimes, is best studied on a larger-scale
chart. See Chart 1b below.
the beginning of the decade 1990-2000 the chance
of being mugged in any given year for the average
member of the adult population was around one
in two hundred. By the end of the decade that
risk had doubled (i.e. became one in a hundred).
1999 and 2000 the figure fell back sharply
to a level halfway from where it had begun
and then, unfortunately, in the next year,
i.e. 2001/2002, rose again by enough to put
as back to a situation where mugging is two
thirds worse, nationally than it was in 1990.
think the Government is therefore absolutely
right in giving high priority to this problem.
My guess is that as a result we shall a see
a major decline in 2002/3, with uncertainty
category 'Personal Violence' mainly includes
the legal offences of Grievous Bodily Harm,
Actual Bodily Harm and Common Assault. It will
include some but not all muggings. It appears
to have increased substantially during 1998,
then flattened and then, in March 1992, exploded.
3 shows that this was entirely due to Common
Assault and for the reasons already given is
almost certainly due to changed police recording
conventions, rather than any actual increase
in actual violence. More gradual change of
practice may also be responsible for the movements
of the earlier figures.
crime also increased in 1998, but, although
showing ups and downs, has basically since
of Homes. The national long trend is downward,
but I personally cannot see any trend, either
way, in the recent local figures.
Robbery' roughly corresponds to BCS Mugging
and it is my impression that the local figures
are consistent with the national story already
Hounslow Chiswick Area Committee recently received
a report on Crime Statistics
in Chiswick, which gives ward-by-ward figures
of Notified Crime Apr-Sept and Oct-Mar, 2001/2002.
Notified Crime corresponds to Reported, rather
than Recorded, crime and it is to be presumed
that for both periods they follow the new recording
problem is that the figures for individual
wards are sufficiently small by mathematical
standards that they must be subject to substantial
statistical random error. For example total
burglaries increased in Homefields Ward by
10 on 76. This could be the work of a particular
gang or it could be a statistical blip.
have calculated however, that taking a longer
view the burglary rate, per household, in Homefields
Ward is high by both national and local standards.
is my general opinion that underlying trends
in various crimes in Chiswick are consistent
with the picture of a typical national middle-crime
Causes of Crime
work for the Home Office has given me a rather
wide knowledge of all kinds of research that
has been done on the social and economic causes
of crime both in the UK and in the US. This
is my view of the general picture:
great proportion of all crime is committed
by males between the ages of 10 and 35, with
a heavy concentration in the band 18-25. In
effect, most crime is committed by a revolving
gang of about 100,000 males. While new entrants
come of age, a certain proportion of existing
members, every year, go straight.
active criminals commit between 10 and 20 crimes
each per year. Although the police clear-up
prospect for any one crime is low, the probability
that in any one two-year period an active criminal
will be caught and convicted for some of his
crimes is high. The average prison sentence
is also about two years, so the gang is also
revolving through the criminal justice system
and the prisons, re-offending and, eventually
first time a person is convicted they go into
a national data base called the Offender's
Index. Each time they are subsequently convicted
the fact is added to their record. If a person
previously showing up regularly permanently
disappears from the record it is more likely
that they have actually gone straight than
that they have discovered a way of never getting
new supply of active criminals comes from the
new supply of young men who are susceptible,
i.e. probably less than one in ten of each
age cohort. The highest risk factor for criminal
susceptibility is a home which is relatively
poor - in the sense of a household net income,
adjusted for family size, less than 60% of
the national median - average where there are
three or more children and where the natural
father has been substituted by another male
(either stepfather or partner). Poor lone mothers
with small families often do well, but if they
have three or more children especially boys
they have difficulty in preventing at least
one of them from going astray.
a major risk factor for a boy in a poor family
is below-average academic talent. He will bunk
off from school, meet active criminals, and
may well then become one himself.
there is also an outflow from the active criminals,
i.e. the 'desisters'. The total number of active
criminals therefore fluctuates through time
with changes in the balance of inflow and outflow.
criminality (average numbers of crimes per
year) of active criminals depends on:
The value of goods available to be stolen (e.g.
cars, their contents, domestic consumer goods
etc), which rises over time as society becomes
richer (growth of GDP)
3. The balance between the income the criminal
could earn if he spent the corresponding time
in legal employment, on the one hand, and the
value of the goods available to be stolen,
on the other: this factor thus reinforces the
general effect of relative poverty. (Unemployment
comes in here but not in a straightforward
way because a person seeking work may be particularly
concerned to avoid a criminal record. The most
important effect of increased unemployment,
I think, is that it tends to increase the poverty
4. The apparent chance of being caught, which
depends in turn on the actual chance of being
caught as reflected in police clear-up rates.
long term picture
consequences of the above are that as we get
more prosperous we shall experience more property
crime (but not necessarily more violent crime,
which latter, by the way has been found to
change from year to year rather closely with
annual beer consumption!), unless
Police numbers rise as fast as GDP, which means,
in practice, faster than the population.
(2) The level of income among the least-well-off
people rises faster than the national average.
the half century that has just passed neither
of these things happened. Consequently the
crime rate per head of population rose steadily.
in the middle nineteen-eighties, condition
(2) went sharply in the wrong direction. Between
1985 the proportion of households below 60%
of the median net income rose from 10% to 20%.
(See Chart 5a)
proportion of boys aged 15 raised in a lone-mother
family which was also poor went from 20% in
1980 to 45% in 1990 and fortunately fell back
to 35% in 2000. We don't have historical statistics
on stepfathers but I have estimated (See Chart
5b) that there must in fact have been a corresponding
jump in the supply of potential criminals.
Result in terms of Burglaries
6 is a statistical series which 'splices' the
police-recorded data before 1990 with the BCS
data thereafter. I think that is a reasonably
accurate procedure because there is indirect
evidence of police under-recording of burglaries
in the period 1990-1995 as they were, in effect,
partly overwhelmed by the crime wave.
you look at Chart 6 with Charts
5a and 5b it is
fairly obvious what happened. After a short
lag, the increase in poverty generated more
criminals who committed more crimes. The police
were partly overwhelmed, thus making the situation
police numbers have not increased and relative
poverty has not fallen, did the burglary rate
fall back. I am not sure of the answer but
I think the reasons are probably:
(2) Falling relative fencing value of domestic
(3) A delayed-action effect in the statistics:
a burst in the supply of new criminals leads
immediately to more crime, but gradually these
newcomers experience being caught and gradually
some of them desist.
crime jumps, unless there is also an immediate
increase in police, the arrest rate falls,
but, nevertheless, there are more arrests and
more imprisonments. Responding to public concern,
judges imprison an increasing proportion of
convictees (as against probation etc). The
jails fill up and go on doing so until sometime
after the crime wave has reversed. This is
what is happening in the UK today. The same
thing happened in the US ten years earlier.
As a result the US, comparatively speaking
has an enormous prison population. Taking a
white male aged 25 years, such a person, in
the US has four times the chance of being now
in prison than the corresponding person in
the UK, and the UK person, in turn, has twice
the chance of being in prison than is the case
in the typical European country.
must frankly be accepted that young men of
colour whose ancestors were transported from
Africa 250 years ago, then spent five generations
in slavery and then another five in near-slavery,
and whose families have since come to the UK,
are over-represented in all crime and prison
statistics. My belief that one of the causes
is a long hangover of the disrupting effect
of slavery and near-slavery on family life
and the male role is somewhat supporting by
some data suggesting that people who have come
to this country directly from West Africa do
effect on total crime must not be overestimated.
I calculate that if West Indian males had average,
rather than elevated, crime rates, the national
crime rate would be reduced by about five per
sent. But in some locations (of which Hounslow
is not one), of course, the effect would be
Copycat Feared on King Street
figures show crime in Chiswick falling
Rapist gets life
in Chiswick - ward by ward
notified of local crime through Ringmaster
safe are the underpasses under the A4?