Are all crimes reported to the police fully investigated? You may think yes, the magnifying glass comes out on every occasion, but as this recent story about one force ‘shelving’ 40% of their crime reports over the last financial year shows, some crimes are in fact filed without further investigation.
Initially this may seem a slightly odd thing to do. If you’d reported being a victim of crime to the police, wouldn’t the least you expect be that they’d investigate it?
Whilst at first thought that indeed seems a reasonable expectation, as the above quoted figure suggests, a proportion of reported crimes are in fact filed at source.
Why is this the case though? Don’t police officers want to solve crimes? Isn’t that their job?
Well, of course it is down to us to solve crimes. It’s our job to identify offenders and ensure that by the end of our investigation they’re sitting in the rear of the prison van wearing stripey pajamas and thinking very hard about what they’ve done.
Our ability to detect crimes though, their ‘solavability’, often depends on the initial circumstances under which the crime has taken place and whilst the point of initial investigations is to help generate leads and identify evidence, it is not uncommon for there to be so little to go on that the investigation stalls before it even gets started.
Take a bike stolen overnight from a public park as an example. Quite why it was there I can’t tell you but in the morning the bike’s owner returns to the spot where he thought he’d left it. It’s not there. It definitely was there but now it’s not. Some miscreant appears to have stolen it.
Wanting to report the loss, the ex-cyclist calls his local force on their conveniently easy to remember non-emergency number, 101, and lets the operator know what has happened.
If the offence has taken place in the West Midlands, the operator taking the call will likely run through something we call the ‘solvability matrix’. Questions will be asked about the offence location, whether there are any visible CCTV cameras, any identifiable witnesses, whether the bike was unique in any way and at the end of the call makes a decision on whether to ‘file’ the crime report or to allocate it for further investigation.
There wasn’t any CCTV in this example, no witnesses, the bike wasn’t unique and there aren’t any forensics opportunities as the ‘scene’ is nothing more than an empty space once containing a bike, the probable outcome will be that the crime report will be filed there and then.
A secondary investigation won’t take place simply because without any identifiable leads, the investigation can go no further.
This isn’t to say that the matter is left here mind. A crime number can still be issued so that an insurance claim can be made, a referral will be made too onto Victim Support who can provide further assistance.
Furthermore, a ‘filed’ crime report can be reopened at any time – anyone who’s seen New Tricks will know this – and if further leads emerge justifying further investigation emerge then that’s just what will happen.
Likewise it’s not uncommon for criminals caught for other matters will choose to admit to past crimes for which they were never caught – to have their past offences ‘taken into consideration‘.
The idea behind doing so is that by admitting guilt before they get found out, a judge may pass a lesser sentence to reward their ‘honesty’. The victim benefits when this happens as they finally get a little closure.
The threshold for when an investigation will be filed depends on a range of factors, particularly the severity of the offence itself. Proportionate investigation is the key here.
This means that for a major investigation – a murder for example – extensive house to house, media appeals, reconstructions and a range of other tools will be employed to ensure that momentum is maintained.
At the other opposite end of proportionate investigation, and here we return to the stolen bicycle, it’s clearly not a realistic proposition to routinely deploy such methods to identify an offender. Not only this, the constant clatter of police helicopter blades overhead each time a bicycle is stolen may well annoy people after a short while!
Of course, that an investigation is filed at source is no comment on the value of the loss to the victim, nor on our attitude towards the fact that a crime has taken place.
It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that to the victim, the crime is the most significant thing that’s happened to them and as such they need to be treated accordingly.
It’s also important not to give the impression that if it appears to you, having discovered that you’ve been a victim of crime and to you it doesn’t appear it’s likely the police will be able to identify an offender, that it’s not worth letting us know.
For a range of important reasons it very much is.
First of all, we need to know what’s happening in your local area. Even if a report does get filed at source, the information that a crime has taken place at all is valuable to us. It helps us build up a picture and make decisions about how we can respond.
Secondly, the people who take the reports, be they the call operator, a PCSO or police officer, know best when a crime is likely to be able to be progressed or not. Whilst you may think that hope is lost, an experienced police officer may be able to point you towards sources of evidence you’d not considered.
Thirdly, if crimes aren’t reported to us and later someone decides to admit them, it can be very hard to identify the victims. If they’re on the system and some hoodlum admits nicking a bike in so and so park on so and so date, a quick search can locate the victim, allow us to contact them and maybe even arrange for the bike to be returned.
Filing crime reports at source is never ideal and I know that it’s the last thing officers want to see happen.
I remember myself precariously clambering onto a school roof (I’m scared of heights/falling off roofs) because the caretaker had suggested there might be a footprint up there, I did so because I didn’t want the crime report filed and know other officers would do the same.
Unfortunately owing to circumstances some reports will always be filed and it’s important to understand why this is.
It’s no comment on how we view the crime itself and if you’ve reported something to us and are unsure why it’s been filed, please ask. We’ll be happy to explain.