Today, on the 9th April 2014, the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published their report into allegations of police mis-recording of crime statistics. (The report – Caught Red-Handed: Why We Can’t Count on Police Recorded Crime Statistics – can be viewed here).
During the course of several weeks, the PASC considered written and oral evidence from serving and former police officers, academics, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), statisticians, subject matter experts, and others. (My written submission can be viewed here).
I thought I’d highlight a few salient points from the report, which lays much of the blame for mis-recording of crime stats directly at the feet of performance targets. It highlights:
- Performance pressures associated with targets acting as perverse incentives. (paragraph 21)
- An entrenched target culture, which persists to this day. (paragraph 73)
- A conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values. (paragraph 88)
- The pernicious effects of target cultures. (paragraph 80)
It also cites a 2010 report by the UK Statistics Authority, which warned:
“The existence of a target may change the behaviour of service providers in ways that have unexpected and unwanted side effects. There may be scope for manipulation or gaming”. (paragraph 80)
But wait, there’s more…
Commenting on the impact upon police officers’ sense of vocation and desire to serve the public as ‘dedicated and courageous professionals’, the Committee concludes targets:
“…tend to affect attitudes, erode data quality and to distort individual and institutional behaviour and priorities”. (paragraph 86)
Finally, in the ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ section, the document concludes with this unequivocal statement:
“The Home Office… should make clear in its guidance to PCCs that they should not set performance targets based on Police Recorded Crime data as this tends to distort recording practices and to create perverse incentives to misrecord crime. The evidence for this is incontrovertible. In the meantime, we deprecate such target setting in the strongest possible terms. (paragraph 40)
Pretty strong stuff. And that isn’t coming from me, or #StickChild, or someone with an axe to grind or political points to score – they’re the words of a cross-party committee of MPs.