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Norfolk’s crime rate soars - but why are so few suspects charged?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 06 July 2018 | UPDATED: 15:44 06 July 2018

Crime figures are going up, but the number of criminals caught is hardly increasing. Photo: Getty Images

Crime figures are going up, but the number of criminals caught is hardly increasing. Photo: Getty Images

Archant

Criminals are becoming “more confident” they will not be caught, Norfolk’s police union has warned.

It comes as new figures show just 15pc of all recorded crime in the county last year resulted in a suspect being charged.

Recorded offences in Norfolk jumped from 37,401 incidents in 2013 to 56,029 in 2017 - a 50pc rise.

But the number of those reported crimes which resulted in a charge only increased by 1.3pc during the same period - from 8,293 to 8,397.

Norfolk Police said the rise in recorded incidents could be due to several factors, including better recording practices.

It said that alternative punishments for some offences were increasingly being used as opposed to charges and prosecution. These include cautions and fixed penalty notices.

However, Norfolk’s police union says the lack of charges was partly due to increasing pressure on detectives, coupled with a national shortfall for the role.

It warned that the public will have to get used to a reduced service in some aspects of policing in the future.

The figures obtained through our Freedom of Information request show:

Break-in reports have soared. Photo: Getty ImagesBreak-in reports have soared. Photo: Getty Images

• Incidents of violence against a person almost doubled from 9,689 in 2013 to 17,987 in 2017

• Sexual offences increased from 897 to 2,406 over the same period

• Burglary reports soared from 3,665 to 4,074

• Robbery increased from 175 recorded incidents to 421

• Drug offences dropped from 2,538 to 2,043

For some offences, the number of people charged has not only failed to keep up with the crime rise, but has fallen.

Our figures show 411 recorded burglaries resulted in a charge in 2013. This dropped to 314 last year.

Charges for sexual offences fell from 267 five years ago to 163 in 2017.

Lakenham Hewett RFC break-in. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYLakenham Hewett RFC break-in. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Andy Symonds, Norfolk Police Federation branch chairman, said officers are struggling to investigate and cope with workloads in a “timely manner” due to increased pressures.

He said there was a 17pc increase in 999 calls, with an extra 1,000 grade A emergency response calls, in Norfolk last year.

Mr Symonds said officers were also having to deal with more non-crime related calls, such as transporting patients to hospital.

“Sadly the public has to get used to a reduced service in some aspects of policing,” he said.

“This is not through want of trying and it frustrates police officers daily that they can’t offer that gold service to everyone all of the time.

“It’s simply impossible with the numbers we have and the continued austerity imposed on the police.”

He also claimed criminals are now “more so than ever before” becoming more confident they will not be caught.

“We are vulnerable to organised crime groups who have a really good understanding of what our response to criminality looks like,” he said.

Andy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation. Picture Andy SymondsAndy Symonds, chairman of Norfolk Police Federation. Picture Andy Symonds

A Norfolk Police spokesman said the county remains one of the safest in England and Wales.

The spokesman added that the force is the third best in the country for detection rates.

“There is no simple explanation for these increases [in recorded crime] and there are a number of likely factors behind the trend,” the spokesman said.

“Crime recording practices have improved and forces are now expected to record a new range of crimes which did not form part of our statistics a few years ago.”

The spokesman said 17pc of reported crime in Norfolk result in a charge, compared to 10pc nationally.

“Prosecuting offenders is just one outcome available to the police and we increasingly make use of cautions, fixed penalty notices and restorative justice as an alternative to prosecution,” a police spokesman said.

Police said many victims do not support prosecution, particularly when the crime occurs in a “family setting”.

“It should also be noted that the changing nature of crime has made some crime harder to detect,” the spokesman added.

Lakenham Hewett RFC break-in. Club president Andy Pullinger. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLYLakenham Hewett RFC break-in. Club president Andy Pullinger. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“Offences which occurred long before they were reported or crimes anonymously committed via the internet are not as easily solved as our case load of a few years ago.”

In a burglary at Lakenham Rugby Club at the beginning of April, police did visit, took photos and looked for fingerprints.

The club was targeted twice in three days, with burglars stealing a till and large quantities of alcohol.

Club president Andy Pullinger said an investigation into the first break-in was closed, but second is ongoing.

Changes to Norfolk Police

Norfolk Police said it has 41 fewer officers in 2017 than it did five years ago, when the figure stood at 1,562.

But under its new 2020 policing model, the current number of frontline police officers will increase by 81.

Police said a A 5.5pc precept rise this year will also allow for a further 17 officers to be recruited.

The number and type of recorded crime in Norfolk between 2013 and 2017. Graphic: ArchantThe number and type of recorded crime in Norfolk between 2013 and 2017. Graphic: Archant

However, the restructuring has seen all 150 PCSO roles axed.

Andy Symonds, from the police federation, said officers had raised some concerns about removing the PCSOs.

That included the work PCSOs did to close roads after crashes, sealing crime scenes, taking lower level crime reports and visiting the victim and gathering intelligence from the community.

Norfolk Police said the new model will provide a workforce with the flexibility to investigate an “increasingly complex range of criminality.”

Complex crimes

Violent crime has seen the biggest increase since 2013 in the number of reports.

But Norfolk Police said that classification of crime covers offences ranging from minor to very serious.

“When comparing the increase in crime and charge rate, with violent crime in particular, it is important to acknowledge changes in recording standards,” a police spokesman said.

In regard to drug offences, which have fallen in the past five years, Norfolk Police said it was due to a change in tactics.

“We have moved our focus away from targeting street users of drugs and now prioritise those who supply the drugs affecting our communities,” a spokesman said.

“This means less use of untargeted tactics and more proactive activity such as that shown throughout Operation Gravity.

“Targeting dealers takes more effort, leads to less arrests but brings with it greater benefits.”

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