Data Journalism

Unsolved and unsafe: Police forces across England and Wales struggling to tackle 8 out of 10 crimes as Greater Manchester Police found to be failing victims

The vast majority of all recorded crimes have not resulted in any suspects being charged since November 2017, according to an exclusive new analysis of police data.

Police in England and Wales have consistently failed to bring criminals to justice over the past three years, with many forces closing over 80% of investigations without any suspects being identified or prosecuted.

A significant number have charged suspects in fewer than 10% of cases.

The new analysis also shows little to no improvement has occurred during the pandemic, prior to which a YouGov survey revealed that Britons already expressed staggeringly low levels of confidence in the police’s ability to solve crime.

A recent resident of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester shared his experience of becoming a victim of crime, and his lack of confidence in the police’s ability to help, after moving there from a “quiet, peaceful village” in Cambridgeshire.

Manchester cityscape during a storm \ Image by Paul Rhoades from Pixabay

Ryan Buxton, a musician and guitar tutor, moved to Manchester in the spring of 2018 with a sense of excitement and expectation of encountering a vibrant city with a “rip-roaring” music scene reminiscent of “New York in the 1980s”, which he imagined would have been “terrible and terrifying in some respects”, but also “very exciting, very interesting in others.”

“In my head I’d painted this romantic and slightly intimidating picture of Manchester being this kind of big industrial place…you know, like you have to really be on your toes, being mugged all the time, or worse, I suppose.”

Shortly after arriving in the area, Ryan quickly found himself subjected to bicycle theft, criminal damage, and attempted burglary.

We did have a bike stolen from our lock-up and the new neighbours below us had both of their bikes stolen when they moved in.

I had my car keyed in town and there was no obvious reason why.”

He decided not to report these crimes to the police, as he felt that they would have “much bigger things on their mind.”

I can’t imagine a huge metropolitan police force having time for bike theft.

Just seemed like a process that was probably pointless I guess.”

He also recalled the experience of a friend who was out busking in the city centre.

“My friend Olly had his headphones stolen. He was walking down the street towards Piccadilly. I think it was during the day, to be honest, and somebody on their bike had cycled past and just taken them off his head.[They were] five miles away before he’d had a chance to do anything about it.

You don’t make your intention to be [near Piccadilly] after a certain time in my opinion. You don’t want to invite anything and if you were to be there at that time of night, maybe you’d be increasing your chances of something happening like that.”

Despite being affected by the sobering realities of inner city crime, Ryan still found it difficult to reconcile his daily experience of Manchester with the more disturbing headlines he often read in the local newspaper.

“Something I would say I’ve noticed is the stories that you hear tend to be quite shocking, I suppose. I find it hard to square what I see on a day to day basis with what I hear about happening in Rochdale or Oldham, other places like that…”

Greater Manchester Police were recently placed into special measures due to their failure to record thousands of reported crimes.

One person castigated the force on social media, claiming that they had ignored his pleas for help following a robbery in December 2020:

Yet long before they were placed into special measures, Greater Manchester Police had significant problems finding suspects to charge.

Of the top five police forces with the highest unsolved crime rate, Greater Manchester Police recorded the biggest rise from November 2017 until the middle of 2019. Beyond this point they failed to accurately record crime and outcomes data, leading to a rapid decline in numbers.

The dramatic increase in investigations being closed without suspects raises serious questions about the force’s real success rate.

Try selecting 1-2 forces / Scores vs Ranks

According to the ONS, their inability to record crimes was initially due to “the implementation of a new IT system”, which meant that the force were “unable to supply data for the period July 2019 to March 2020.” 

Yet the new data analysis shows that from multiple perspectives, Greater Manchester Police were already struggling to keep a lid on crimes prior to this point.

Other people who claimed to have been victims of criminal activity in Greater Manchester shared their perspectives with harrowing stories of being deserted by the police when they tried to report crimes, and potentially life-threatening situations, shortly after the Manchester Evening News first broke the story of the force being placed in special measures.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Bev Hughes, Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice, suggested that the pressures of the pandemic played a significant role in the force’s subsequent issues with data collection.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services said that the force’s litany of problems included:

“Failing to identify, record and investigate around one in four reports of violent crime and to safeguard victims of many of these crimes. This includes behavioural crimes, such as harassment, stalking and coercive controlling behaviour, crimes amounting to domestic abuse and those reported by other agencies involving vulnerable adults and children…

Wrongly and prematurely closing substantial numbers of recorded crime investigations, including a high proportion of crimes involving vulnerable victims, as not supported by the victim, but without the evidence to show this to be the case.”

Greater Manchester Police, the Police Federation, and Greater Manchester Combined Authority were all approached for an interview but declined to comment. 

These withering assessments of police forces in England and Wales have coincided with a report in the Guardian which claims that police forces in England and Wales may face new crime reduction targets “in return for government providing the money for 20,000 new officers”, a flagship Conservative manifesto promise dubbed “Safer Streets” by Boris Johnson.

Yet the push to incentivise police forces to reduce the number of recorded crimes, especially “Homicide and serious violence”, in return for funding which has already been pledged, makes no mention of how unsuccessful they have been at dealing with current levels of crime.

Violence and sexual offences were the most frequently recorded crimes in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland during the past three years, followed by criminal damage and arson.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Bedfordshire, and West Yorkshire Police, had the highest number of unsolved crimes across all categories in England and Wales, with each force closing over 84% of cases without managing to identify or prosecute any suspects.

The Metropolitan Police also showed a remarkable rise in the total number of unsolved crimes in 2020, bucking the trend set by other police forces, who saw crime levelling off or dipping slightly as the pandemic took hold.

*Crime type data is taken from police “street crime” datasets, which are separate from their “outcomes” datasets, as the latter lack any data with respect to crime types. This means the final figures for “unsolved” crimes will be different (usually higher) than the “street crime” values above.

By contrast, Greater Manchester Police appeared to go in the opposite direction due to the significant issues they have had with data collection.

With the true picture of criminal activity in Greater Manchester over the past two years all but erased by the force’s negligence, the impact of crime upon tens of thousands of victims is impossible to accurately measure.

Featured photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

Full methodology for the data analysis conducted using RStudio is available on Github. For outcomes data analysis, click here. For street crime data analysis, click here.