A couple of months ago I wrote up the story about how ‘hundreds of sex offenders’ were ‘missing’, and how this was nowhere near as concerning as the headline would be.
Well, on 24th July 2015 a variant of that appeared in the BBC – “Hundreds of police officers convicted in past three years“. This was reported elsewhere, with the Daily Mail being slightly more anguished about the whole thing (as you can imagine). The is how it was summed up in the Mail – “More than 300 police officers have been convicted of crimes in the past three years and many are still serving – Offences include sex attacks, violence, drug possession and viewing child pornography.”
This seems to imply that there are plenty of police officers out on the beat who have conviction for sexual or violent offences. It seems “Lucy Hastings, director of Victim Support, said: ‘Victims of crime will clearly find these figures alarming”. But is that true? Should we be alarmed?
What does it actually mean?
We don’t really know, because some crucial detail is missing.
The data appears to be as follows – 309 PCs and PCSOs have been convicted of an offence since January 2012. We are told that ‘many’ are still serving. Firstly, how many is ‘many’? That is information that we need to be told.
But the most important piece of information that is not included is ‘what types of offences have those who are still serving committed?’
Police Officers are, like the rest of us, human. They commit criminal offences. That is sad, but to be expected. The fact that some police officers have committed criminal offences is not really news. Police Officers with convictions may be. But it does turn (to my mind) on what the convictions are. Personally, I’d be pretty concerned if a Police Officer with a conviction for a sexual offence, or assault, was allowed to keep their job. But I’m pretty sure that that doesn’t happen.
Looking at the Met, there were 178 officers convicted of a criminal offence in the relevant time period. Of those, 54 are still serving. That’s 30%. I’d question whether that is properly described as ‘many’, but there way go.
What were these offences that were committed? “They included two sexual offences, four of violence, three thefts and 19 traffic violations“. That’s 28 of the 178. What are the other offences? We don’t know. There will be some found with drugs, some criminal damage, but the figure of 28 seems pretty low. It may turn on what is meant by a ‘traffic violation’. This would include going through a red light for example, but would it include other traffic offences such as speeding?
Of the ‘many’ still serving, I would guess that most are those who have convictions for traffic offences. And, whilst those are still offences and the seriousness should not be diminished, is it really a problem if a police officer gets caught speeding? I’d suggest not. Similarly with other low-level offences such as ‘urinating in public’. Not pleasant, not excusable, but is it necessarily something that should cause a career in the police to be terminated?
What information is needed in the article, to put it in context, is the following :
1) How many police officers are still serving?
2) Of those, what were the offences?
Without that, the story is pretty much a non-story. I do wish news outlets would include obviously important information such as this when reporting.
Are Police Officers committing a lot of crime?
That seemed to be gist of lots of people on social media, but is it right?
It’s hard to tell exactly, but lets have a look. In 2014 there were 127,909 Police Officers and 13,066 PCSOs in England and Wales (we’ll leave out Special Constables, as it’s not clear if they are included. That’s a total of 140,975. It’s actually gone down in the last few years due to the cuts, but take that figure.
The rate then at which Police Officers are committing offences over that 3½ year period if 0.22%. Is that high or low?
In 2011, there were 55,125,000 over the age of ten (who are ‘eligible’ for a criminal conviction). Obviously, even though police officers may be looking younger, there aren’t actually going to be any aged 10-17, so it’s not an exact science. In 2014, there were 1,730,000 people dealt with formally in the Criminal Justice System. In other words, the annual crime rate (in the sense of the proportion of people who are brought before the Courts) amongst the general public is 3.14%. Assuming that the criminal activity of the police is spread evenly, that is nearly 50 times higher than for police officers.
You’d probably expect that in fairness, but it does give an indication that Police are generally a lot more law-abiding than the general public. Whenever a news article has numbers in it, it’s always asking what they mean. Is 300 a high number or a low number? Here, it’s a low one, but without that context, it’s hard to say.