Police shelve one in four crime reports – including sexual assaults and burglaries – as officers think there is ‘little chance of catching the culprit’
- Average of one in four UK crime reports shelved with little or no investigation
- Police can choose not to investigate if there is little chance of catching culprit
- Such instances include situations with a lack of witnesses or CCTV footage
Police turned a blind eye to almost a million crimes last year, figures show.
On average one in four crime reports were shelved by police across the UK with little or no investigation, according to a report.
Offences such as sexual assault, violent attacks, burglaries and car thefts were dropped hours after being reported, often because they were deemed unsolvable.
Offences such as sexual assault, violent attacks, burglaries and car thefts were dropped hours after being reported
In a controversial policy known as ‘screening out’, police forces can choose not to investigate crimes where they consider there is little chance of catching the culprit because there are no witnesses and no CCTV footage.
Crimes are logged in official figures but no serious effort is made to investigate and victims are merely issued with reference numbers for insurance purposes.
But experts said allowing criminals to get away with low-level crime can lead to them committing more serious offences in the future.
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And critics believe the practice of cherry picking crimes to investigate has undermined faith in the police and encouraged criminals to believe they will get off scot-free.
Official figures from 22 forces, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act to Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, show that on average, 27 per cent of all crimes reported last year were ‘screened out’.
Nearly a million crimes reported to the 22 forces last year were not investigated. But the true number of crimes going unpunished is likely to be far higher because only around half of forces were able to provide screening out data.
Police forces can choose not to investigate crimes where they consider there is little chance of catching the culprit
Dispatches found that on average 10 per cent of violent attacks, 3 per cent of sex offence cases and 60 per cent of vehicle offences were screened out in 2017.
Of the 21 forces that provided data for burglary, the average screening out rate was 36 per cent.
The figures, published today, come amid growing concern over violent crime in ‘Wild West Britain’ highlighted by the Daily Mail.
The worst offender was West Yorkshire Police, which dismissed 47 per cent of crimes reported in 2017 after an initial assessment.
The force wanted to go further because its ‘optimum screen out’ rate – which it insists is ‘not a target’ – is 56 per cent, equivalent to dumping about 145,000 offences per year.
Bedfordshire and Greater Manchester Police also screened out a high proportion of offences, both dismissing 40 per cent of all reported crimes last year.
Criminologist Martin Innes said: ‘Criminal damage offences and vehicle-related offences are important because they are “gateway offences” – the kind of offending that individuals use when they are launching their criminal career.
‘That’s the kind of thing where people learn how to commit crime, they learn the lifestyle, they learn the contacts that they need to disperse the stuff that they steal.
‘And we know from pretty good evidence from research that if people engage in these kind of gateway type offences, and if they are not caught and intercepted, they are more likely to go on and continue to offend at greater levels and engage in more serious crime.’
With forces facing huge budget cuts and having fewer officers, police chiefs believe it is better to focus resources on cases where there is a prospect of catching the offender. Murder, wounding and rape are always investigated.
Superintendent Mark McManus, of West Yorkshire Police, explained his force’s rationale. ‘Under our demand management review we scrutinised 4,000 crimes from the initial report, right through until its finalisation,’ he said.
‘From that we identified that we were allocating too much crime for secondary investigation – with no gain to the victim in some cases and we needed to focus our front-line officer time more appropriately.
‘However, all crime gets a primary investigation either by a police officer attending in person, or over the telephone by officers or trained investigators.’
Dispatches is being shown on Channel 4 at 8pm tonight.
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