Devon and Cornwall Police claim crime falling as national figures show a rise
Concerns about "spin and presentation" were aired last night as Devon and Cornwall Police published figures showing crime was falling – at the same time as official statistics showed it to be the worst performing force in the country.
The Office for National Statistics yesterday released figures for the year up to September 2012 which revealed offences in the two counties had risen by 5% to 90,376 – the highest rate of any of the 43 forces in England and Wales.
But the force also proactively issued its own numbers yesterday – for April 2012 to January 2013 – which showed that crime had fallen by 5.5%.
Westcountry MPs questioned the force's timing saying it presented a confusing picture to the taxpaying public.
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"Coincidentally, the force has put out figures, over a different period, which manage to present a more positive image than the ones from the official statisticians," St Ives Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George said.
"It undermines public confidence in the police if they are becoming more concerned about spin and presentation than proper operational management.
"What is most concerning is what appears to be a degree of cynicism on the part of the constabulary rather than a small fluctuation in the statistics."
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, added: "It's vital that the public can have confidence in crime figures.
"Devon and Cornwall Police need to explain how their figure is so different from that of the independent Office of National Statistics."
The official figures, released every quarter, revealed Devon and Cornwall were one of only two forces nationally to suffer a rise in crime in the 12 months to September, the other being Wiltshire.
It followed a 6% rise in crime in Devon and Cornwall in 2011-12, which was double the rate of any other police force area.
In the year to September, violent crime rose 20% to 24,080 offences, fraud by 22% to 2,707 and "other crime" by 15% to 1,943. Dwelling burglary increased by 2% to 3,836 crimes although vehicle crime fell by 5% to 6,722 and criminal damage by 6% to 17,030. There was no increase, or decrease, in robbery.
Overall, crime in Avon and Somerset fell by 9% during the same period and in Dorset by 10%. The national average was a 7% drop.
In its press release, Devon and Cornwall Police provided figures for this financial year so far.
Compared to the same period in 2011-12, it said overall crime had fallen by 5.5% from 74,123 offences to 70,069.
Similarly robbery had dropped 20.4% to 335 and criminal damage to 1,781 – a fall of 12.1%. Domestic burglary dropped by nearly a quarter to 2,696 incidents. Assistant Chief Constable Chris Boarland, who is responsible for crime and criminal justice, denied there had been a change in PR tactics from the force to overshadow the ONS figures.
He said there was "no conspiracy" and "no deliberate spin" and that the force regularly published its crime figures on its website.
"My understanding is that we have published figures, good or bad, at the same time as the ONS," he said. "This is no different."
Mr Boarland said the figures were "right up to date" and would be reflected in future ONS releases.
He added: "Devon and Cornwall remains a safe place, but these latest figures from April 2012 show an encouraging drop as a result of the targeted work going on to reduce crime and the fear of crime.
"Devon and Cornwall Police aim to be the best rural, urban and coastal force in the country and these latest results show we are heading in the right direction.
"These results show how our staff are working with communities to make them safer.
"In the current financial climate we have to look at different ways of achieving our goals and working more effectively with less whilst keeping victims at the forefront of our plans.
"It isn't easy for any of our staff, but these results show a clear commitment to succeed."