Crimes 'misrecorded' but figures 'not manipulated' - Gwent chief constable Jeff Farrar

South Wales Argus: Gwent chief constable Jeff Farrar speaking in the House of Commons (2959081) Gwent chief constable Jeff Farrar speaking in the House of Commons (2959081)

GWENT Police's chief constable has told MPs that officers misrecorded incidents when official figures showed crime falling in the region.

But Jeff Farrar said he didn’t think there was wholesale manipulation of figures – despite saying target incentives could lead to officers feeling pressured to avoid reporting crimes.

Mr Farrar came under a grilling from Newport West MP Paul Flynn and others on the Public Administration Committee which is probing the issue of crime statistics.

The hearing came after a Gwent Police internal review found that 25 out of 50 incidents from last summer had not been recorded in line with Home Office rules.

That study was commissioned by Mr Farrar after he was installed as temporary chief constable, following the forced retirement of his predecessor Carmel Napier by the police and crime commissioner Ian Johnston.

Mr Johnston and Mrs Napier had a public row over crime figures when Mr Johnston said the force might not be recording crime properly.

Committee member and Newport West MP Paul Flynn asked if Mr Farrar found a 29 per cent fall in crime between 2010 and 2013 and four per cent fall since Ian Johnston’s election plausible.

“Absolutely,” said the chief constable, asking for that reduction to be seen in the context of the “trend from where we’ve come from”.

But Mr Flynn repeatedly pressed Mr Farrar on the issue, leading the chair of the committee Bernard Jenkin to ask if Mr Farrar could demonstrate how there could be confidence that large crime reduction.

Mr Farrar, who is the national lead on crime statistics, said hard work from staff “was widely attributed to those crime reductions” but added: “Would there have been misrecording in there? Yes, undoubtedly. I said there would be. Do I think there was wholesale manipulation of the figures? I really don’t.”

In written evidence to the committee the chief constable said when incentives exist to meet the demands of target cultures officers can feel under pressure to avoid creating crimes, or to classify crimes away from types under scrutiny.

He also wrote victims who do not want crimes recorded or investigated, or where they are belligerent or obstructive, may lead to misrecording, as might pressures on resources, a neglect of duty by failing to comply with procedures, IT issues and general incompetence or lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules.

The chief constable said the themes had been articulated "across the country" but many are anecdotal.

Mr Farrar told MPs: “When the service is judged by an inspection process that uses a league table, or when it’s judged by a media headline, there’s an inevitability that can drive the wrong behaviour.”

The chief constable said there are now no targets in Gwent.

Mr Farrar said the internal review found that there were two reasons why crime statistic rules weren’t followed – either because officers through they were helping the public deliver a service or had a lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules.

But chairman of the committee Bernard Jenkin said he found it “rather difficult to believe” there would have statistically significant underreporting of crime for those reasons. Mr Farrar said it was probably on the “margins”.

A Gwent Police internal review found that 25 out of 50 incidents from July 2013 had not been recorded in line with Home Office Counting Rules.

It found that this was due to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules, or a genuine attempt to deal with the incident – rather than pressure not to record crime.

Gwent Police said 90 per cent of the victims involved in the incidents were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the police response.

THE chief constable said he wouldn’t be in the service if he felt under any undue pressure from the Gwent police and crime commissioner Ian Johnston.

Paul Flynn, Newport West MP, quizzed the chief constable on whether he knew Mr Johnston before the election – Mr Farrar said he was a superintendent at the same time he was.

The chief constable went on to say is that he had never "had a conversation with him about re-election" and never had "a conversation with him about numbers on crime, keeping them down.”

Mr Flynn asked if he was under more pressure from the PCC in order to get public approval to reduce crimes public perceive to be the most important.

“I’ve got 30 years service. If I felt I was under that undue pressure I wouldn’t be in the service. Every conversation I’ve had with the police and crime commissioner has been about doing the right thing,” Mr Farrar said.

Jeff Farrar, under questioning from Paul Flynn, said there were lots of reasons why there was only one candidate for his job, saying Wales had never been popular for chief officers and that across the whole of the service there’s one applicant for many jobs.

But he said it was unfair to read the PCC into that after Mr Flynn had raised the fact that Mr Johnston had forced his predecessor to retire.

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