Police called on to improve recording of sexual offences
More than one in ten sexual incidents reported to police are not being recorded in the correct way, inspectors have warned.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) found 11 per cent of the 1,200 plus sexual incidents it examined across Scotland were ‘closed’ incorrectly.
An incident is correctly closed when it is classified as non-crime related and enough information is recorded to back this up, or the incident indicated a crime had been committed and a crime record had been traced.
HMICS’ audit of incident and crime recording found that the majority of incidents that had been incorrectly closed contained “insufficient information from which to make a judgement as to whether or not a crime had actually occurred”, largely because of incomplete records.
Inspectors reiterated concerns over a tendency on the part of specialist units to “fail to record crime timeously or to update incident records with the status of their investigations”. One in ten crimes resulting from sexual incidents are not recorded within a standard 72 hour window of a report being made, the lowest of four crime types considered by HMICS.
More than 7,000 incident records and over 4,500 crime reports spanning sexual offences, violent crime, housebreaking and hate crime across Scotland were audited.
Inspectors found the quality of most incident and crime recording decisions by Police Scotland was good, albeit they called for improvement plans on crime recording practice to be developed in four of the force’s 14 divisions.
Further training on changes brought about by the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 is also recommended after errors were discovered in the way that certain sexual crimes were counted and classified.
Meanwhile, 13 per cent of non-crime related incidents – those which were recorded as failing to constitute crimes – were closed incorrectly, HMICS discovered.
In more than half of incidents where this was the case, insufficient information was recorded to back up the decision that criminality had not taken place. In other instances, HMICS found a crime had clearly been committed but no crime report was traced, as well as a lack of follow-up to the initial report.
Introduction of processes to make sure incidents are closed and disposed of correctly with the right level of supervision is one of eight recommendations made.
“Several of the incidents where a crime had clearly been committed but no crime record was found related to shoplifting,” notes HMICS’ report. “Often the goods stolen were of low value and officers elected not to record a crime, often because it was unlikely the offender would have been prosecuted.
“However, the decision to record a crime is distinct from the decision to prosecute. In these cases, a crime should still have been recorded.
“Other incidents where a crime had clearly been committed but no crime record was found related to fraud. It seemed that some officers were uncertain how to respond to fraud allegations, particularly in relation to online fraud.”
No-crime decisions – incidents initially recorded as a crime but then found not to be – were made being “correctly and consistently across Scotland” in relation to rape, HMICS said, after media reports suggested significant regional variations across Scotland’s new single force.
However, fears have been raised that incidents more widely may have been incorrectly downgraded to ‘no crimes’ in several divisions, among them Renfrewshire and Inverclyde where almost one in five no-crime decisions were cast in doubt by HMICS.
“No-crime decisions were made incorrectly for a range of reasons, but often were because of a lack of additional credible information to dispel criminality,” says their report.
“We often saw incorrect no-crime decisions in cases where property that was alleged to have been stolen was treated as lost; where the complainer was wrongly advised the matter was civil rather than criminal in nature; where officers deemed the alleged criminality to have been a prank without sufficient explanation for this conclusion; and where stolen property was later recovered by the victim or restitution had been offered by the offender and the victim no longer wished to make a complaint.
“In a few cases, officers appeared too ready to disbelieve the complainer.”
Police Scotland has been urged to make sure that where a no-crime decision has been reached that the complainer is updated on the status of the investigation.
Deputy Chief Constable Rose Fitzpatrick said: “It is important to stress that a technical crime recording issue, which can happen by not updating an incident or crime record with a sufficiency of information, is by no means a reflection on the level of investigation or quality of service provided to victims or witnesses.
“It provides further confidence in the quality of our information management that HMICS’s findings were in parallel those of our own internal audit processes, which demonstrates there is a high level of quality in the way crimes are recorded.
“The recording of crime is kept under constant scrutiny at both national and divisional level and we are working with those divisions where compliance has been highlighted by HMICS and can be improved.
“A National Crime Registrar was appointed by Police Scotland in October 2013 and has established and developed a programme of structured crime recording audits to improve the quality of crime recording decisions across all 14 local policing divisions.
“Many of the issues identified by HMICS are already the subject of improvement activity to continue to deliver high levels of service and to ensure that people in Scotland can continue to have full confidence that Police Scotland are recording crime data in an ethical and standardised manner across Scotland.”
Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe