Drop in crime stats highlights the vital role of the security sector

I’m Peter Webster, chief executive of Corps Security, and this is where I examine the issues affecting the security industry. My thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate and whether you agree or disagree with them, you’re welcome to post your comments below.

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There’s little doubt that the recently published figures which highlighted a continuing fall in crime will be welcomed by all law abiding citizens. For the 12 months to September 2012 the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) reported an eight per cent decrease, while police recorded crime figures showed a seven per cent drop.

The saying there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics’ is worth remembering though, given the subsequent furore about the police downgrading hundreds of thousands of offences to meet their targets. While the figures I’ve quoted above look pretty similar, there is a much bigger discrepancy between the two sets of statistics when looked at over a period of years.

We aren’t just talking about a percentage point or two either – police recorded crime apparently fell by 33 per cent between 2006-7 and 2011-12, while the comparable CSEW figures showed a reduction of just 17 per cent. This prompted John Flatley, head of the crime statistics and analysis division at the Office of National Statistics (ONS), to claim that ‘police recorded crime appears to overstate the true rate at which crime has been falling’.

At the time of writing, the debate – for that read argument – continues to rage, with little clarification. However, one thing I think we can all agree on is that crime is on a downward trajectory and has been for the best part of 20 years. This isn’t just a UK phenomenon either, there is a similar picture across much of the western world and the decline is continuing despite the economic downturn.

I’m no criminologist but this trend does seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, which suggests that crime levels should increase during tough economic times. That said, the theories explaining this supposed anomaly make for interesting reading and range from the logical, such as the police’s anti-social behaviour crackdowns paying off and the growth in social media alleviating boredom, through to the not so obvious, such as the removal of lead from petrol.

One significant contributing factor that hasn’t been reported, and which I would wholeheartedly subscribe to, is the role that the civilian and corporate security sector has played in lowering crime. Put simply, it is more difficult to commit illegal acts than ever before and the chance of detection as a result of specialist manned guarding and increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology is deterring many opportunistic criminals. So why hasn’t this been mentioned in the press? Your guess is as good as mine, but perhaps our industry bodies should use this as a way to promote the good work that we do.

Just as cars and other vehicles are now harder to break into and steal, unauthorised access to buildings and other property is just as difficult. Companies are more aware of what they must do to keep their people and property safe and a heightened state of awareness before and during London 2012 will have also contributed to this. Vigilance does need to filter down into the wider public though, as one area that experienced a six per cent increase was personal thefts such as pickpocketing – from 97,199 offences recorded by police to 103,516.

Those businesses employing both manned guarding and technology are, in effect, covering all bases and when these are complemented with remote alarm receiving and CCTV monitoring services, 24/7 security provision is easily achievable. It would also be very interesting to hear how the technology sector thinks it has contributed to the reduction in crime, particularly given the controversy surrounding the use of high definition cameras.

Property owners and managers are also more conscious of ‘broken windows theory’, which suggests that small-scale damage and disorder often attracts greater levels of vandalism. In the wider community maintenance teams now also respond quickly when graffiti and vandalism does occur to stop neighbourhoods falling into disrepair.

It’s not all good news though, and there was still an estimated 9.2 million offences committed against businesses in the last year, with the majority involving thefts in the retail and wholesale sector. This clearly shows that there is plenty of room for improvement and many more commercial operations need to tighten up their security operations.

Interpreting statistics is never an easy task. However, I think in this instance the underlying trend towards less crime is something that we should all feel positive about. I firmly believe that the message about the importance of security is getting through and while we must not get complacent, it is an excellent platform on which to go forward. As an industry we really should be shouting about the vital role that we play in the field of crime prevention – because nobody else will do it for us!

 

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