We’ve got a file on you…

The New Tricks team specialise in investigating ‘filed’ crime reports but how do some reports become filed as soon as they’re reported to us? (Image from BBC)

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.

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8 Responses to “We’ve got a file on you…”


  1. 1 Exile 17/08/2012 at 21:04

    While your explanation of the reasons for ‘not filing’ is perfectly understandable, and logical, it does leave some questions. For example, if this was the tenth bike to be pinched in 2 weeks from the same area, would it still be ignored? Because, if so, then it means some evil toe-rag is making a nice little tax-free living with little risk.

    • 2 PC Richard Stanley 18/08/2012 at 15:46

      I think that example illustrates why it’s so important that people report offences to us. Armed with the information that there has been a spate of bike thefts in an area we can then begin to build up a profile of the offender by comparing the different reports for similarities. Armed with this information we can then look at whether there are any obvious suspects in the area and do some proactive work to help capture the offender or at the very least, raise awareness to help prevent further thefts.

      Rich

  2. 3 daveincanada 19/08/2012 at 08:52

    Another way of saying ‘solvability’ is ‘an easy detection’. Bike thefts are hard to solve but important to the victim. Petty playground assaults, for example, are easy to solve but not life-changing to the victim. By allocating resources to ‘easy detections’ forces can appear effective in crime fighting when in fact they’re simply playing the system. This is why ‘cannabis warnings’ (essentially solved drug crimes) are so popular.

    The whole ‘solvability’ thing and the attendant crime/ no crime, classification arguments are the root cause of 90% of bureaucracy and help explain why the police don’t show up for a shed break, but will show up for ‘harassment by Facebook’.

  3. 4 daveincanada 09/09/2012 at 18:03

    Re your solvability matrix, this from Sir Paul Stevenson in the Telegraph (Sep 9th 2012): ‘we have seen some forces responding to the pressures that they face by introducing a logical, managerial approach – “detectability matrices” and other systems. Rational though these may be, this approach has sometimes led to a failure to see how important it is that a police officer responds to every report of domestic burglary – important to the public, the victims, the real owners of our justice system. Failing to send a police officer to a report of someone’s home having been violated is wholly inconsistent with a police service that takes burglary seriously.’

    Here’s the link http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9528891/Burglars-need-proper-punishment-not-praise.html

    • 5 PC Richard Stanley 20/09/2012 at 23:47

      The solvability matrix isn’t anything new mind, every force will likely run through a similar process before deciding whether to file or further investigate reports. There were on average over 11,000 crimes a day recorded last year across the country and where there are no legitimate follow up enquiries, it’s not reasonable for police to attend each one.

      There’s certainly no suggestion though that the matrix would lead to crimes such as burglary not being attended – they are indeed taken incredibly seriously and the matrix does nothing to change that.

      Rich


  1. 1 Communities Beat Crime – Not Just The Police « SConTutor's Blog Trackback on 28/10/2012 at 15:58
  2. 2 Communities Beat Crime – Not Just The Police « Met SC Trainer Trackback on 13/12/2012 at 15:10
  3. 3 Communities Beat Crime – Not Just The Police « Met Street Trainer Trackback on 15/12/2012 at 17:25

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