This morning, Andrew Mitchell was wheeled out for the Tories to have a go at the new powers for Community Support Officers. Andrew isn't a big gun, more of a child's bow and arrow, but that didn't stop him telling outright lies to the audience of the Today programme on Radio 4.
Repeatedly, he describes the crime figures as 'soaring.'
Now, you may ask how you can justify this. The short answer is that you can't. The most authoritative survey on crime in Britain is the British Crime Survey. This asks almost 40,000 people about their experience of crime (around 1200 is enough to predict the result of a General Election to within a percentage point or two, so this is a BIG survey). This is done because simply relying on crimes reported to the police doesn't give satisfactory data. In some cases, there is massive under-reporting of crime. As an example, the police logged almost 6 million crimes in 2003/4, while the British Crime Survey estimates that the total was twice that.
There are weaknesses in the BCS - it doesn't cover murder, crimes against children, crimes against businesses or crimes that have no direct victim (like drug dealing). On the other hand, it does cover the crimes that are most likely to have an impact on us. Despite what you might think, murder is exceptionally rare. The most recent statistics show an upturn, but there have been two cases in recent years that have contributed massively - the numbers of people murdered by Harold Shipman and the 58 Chinese immigrants who suffocated in a container while being brought into the country. The BCS only provides national figures, it can't work down to local level.
Police reporting figures are unreliable, because there have been significant changes in how crimes are reported and classified and also because they rely on crime actually being reported. To be fair, they have shown increases over recent years, but there are statistical flaws over reporting. For consistency, look at the BCS.
Burglary - DOWN 42% since 1997
Thefts of and from vehicles - DOWN 40% since 1997
Common assault - DOWN 33% since 1997
Robbery - DOWN 15% since 1997
Domestic and acquaintance violence are both DOWN 45% since 1997
Mugging has only dropped by 4% since 1997
Overall, household crime is DOWN 42% since 1997 and personal crime DOWN 35%.
Now, where there is a problem is with 'Stranger' violence, which has RISEN by 22% since 1997. There has also been an increase in 'snatch' thefts from people, up by 46%. Given that every other item has dropped significantly, I don't think that these two items actually justifies the Tories in labelling crime as 'soaring.' If we are being fair to the Tories (and it IS Christmas), these falls actually started following a peak in 1995.
So why should this matter? Well, if we don't correct the lies, they will enter the common conscience as fact. Not only is this bad for the Labour Party politically, it is bad for the country. Fear of crime is worse than the reality in the way it affects lives. Older members of society live in fear of crime, yet when you look at the reality, only 5% of robberies are perpetrated against them. Almost half of the robbery victims are under 25 - a quarter under 15.
Truth matters. Together, we'll crack it.