WMN opinion: Statistical silly season as crime figures are released
For years newsrooms have dreaded the silly season.
Traditionally it has been the summer holidays, when the whole world and its wife (or husband) disappears on its summer holidays. Political rivalries cease, schools and businesses shut up shop, and real news seems to grind to a halt. It's the time of year when Great White sharks are "spotted" off Cornwall, and when a Prime Minister with his shirt off on the beach is big news. It happens every year, but few seem to notice.
Far more worrying, and far less noticed, is what has become an even sillier season than the August holidays. This is the quarterly jamboree that now surrounds the release of "crime figures". Police press offices around the country go into spin doctor overdrive. Up, down, better or worse? It depends on who you ask.
Every year journalists battle with press officers for clear comparisons; every year clarity seems to be more difficult. Yesterday's release of figures reached record levels of silliness, even for silly statistical seasons.
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There followed lengthy periods of head scratching as the force released partial crime figures, all in areas where its performance was good, for a rather random period up to October 13. A full table of offences, good and bad, for that period was not forthcoming. Instead, after several requests, the force then issued 237 pages of detailed crime figures for the 12 months up until the end of September, which would have been the most sensible to issue in the first place.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer was otherwise engaged, so the press were left to quiz his soon-to-retire deputy, David Zinzan. He said that Devon and Cornwall was continuing to reduce crime and the number of victims of crime.
But Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg was concerned that the force will miss its modest 2% reduction in crime target this year. He was also worried that the force, once fourth, had slipped to 16th in a national table based on crimes per head of population. "Having put the precept up, people are entitled to expect an efficient police service and that crime, across the board, will be dealt with," he said, turning up the pressure on the police.
So here's the good news. General crime levels are falling in Devon and Cornwall, and for now we seem to have a crime commissioner who is willing to hold the police to account on our behalf.