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Crime lowest in ten years

Jonathan Schofield on falling murder, gun crime, robbery rates...and our media

Written by . Published on April 11th 2011.

Crime lowest in ten years

TO FREQUENTLY read Manchester’s local paper is to frequently drown in a sea of crime.

The paper takes just about every police press release of a misdemeanour and launches it onto its pages.

But at least the figures are a cause for cautious celebration. Now we need to make the next step. To make the figures worthwhile we need some sort of context and perspective.

As a registered tour guide for the city (as well as Confidential editor) I cringe as the headlines rear up on boards around the streets. If it truly is a big story then of course the paper should report it - that is its role and duty - but if it’s part of the slow-drip of minor crime on a slow news day such coverage can be distorting, even irresponsible.

Of course big city regions such as Greater Manchester with its 2.5m population, are often dogged by areas of low living standards and poor education - factors that seem to run tandem with high crime rates. This has to be acknowledged and addressed, which is another story. A story worth covering, and examining, with solutions sought.

But trivial crime stories elevated up the main newspaper’s pages paint a bleak picture which doesn’t reflect the reality.

I recall prior to the Commonwealth Games in May 2002 taking a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) crew out for a week of filming around the region. They wanted to do a series of short films showing life in Greater Manchester. They loved the experience but being from Toronto didn’t understand the news coverage. They’d read the paper every day and laugh at the nature of the crimes being reported. “That wouldn’t even register in Toronto,” they’d say.

In truth most of the crime reporting is about filling pages. It’s lazy as well, many of the minor crime reports are released onto the public virtually unedited from the way the police press office wrote them. Newspapers, in an age of rolling 24 hour news, need to offer more.

So here’s a good news story from a police press release which isn't trivial. Apparently crime in Greater Manchester is the lowest since the millennium. Across our 2.5m strong conurbation murders are down to 27 from 31, robberies have fallen to under 4,900 from over 7,700 in 2006/7, gun crime involving gangs has gone from 13 to three.(For a fuller breakdown see panel below)

Chief Constable Peter Fahy is reported as saying: “Detection rates are up but, just as importantly, we are making people feel safer and less fearful of crime. An issue that can impact on everyone’s life is antisocial behaviour and it is pleasing to see that people’s perception of this happening on their streets has fallen."

Well done GMP.

Any reduction is to be welcomed – although there is still much to do. And of course reduced crime figures are no consolation for victims of crime.

But at least the figures are a cause for cautious optimism. Now we need to make the next step. To make the figures worthwhile we need some sort of context and perspective. We need information as to why the improvement has happened. There are assumptions about changes in police strategy contained in the press release but those can only be part of the reason. It’s especially curious that the crime rates should fall in a time of growing unemployment and during poor economic conditions.

The police should ask one of the university departments to get to the source of the downward trend.

Here’s another idea too: let’s pick out similar sized conurbations across the globe and compare and contrast. See how we're doing.

One stat we’ve seen - which needs nailing - is that Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, with a similar metropolitan population, albeit in a much larger geographical area, has a higher murder rate than Greater Manchester at 3 per 100,000.

Confidential will put out a call to the West Midlands as well, which has an almost exact population match for Greater Manchester, and see how we measure up.

Back to tour guiding and the local media. Last year I took a group of ten and eleven-year-old kids from a Manchester school on a tour. It was a follow-up to a talk about how significant and important their city is, and has been. It was about building identity and pride. I asked them what they thought the murder rate was in Greater Manchester, all the replies were about ten times too high. As were their replies to other crime stats. You have to wonder where they got these ideas from? No doubt from many sources but also from the local paper. In terms of city reputation and morale, both for the residents and for visitors, a media obsession with crime is irresponsible.

Let's hope these latest figures from the police achieve adequate coverage. Sometimes spreading a different message has merit. The MEN exclusive today (Monday 11 April) with David Cameron is exactly the sort of direction the paper should go in. Big stories, big personalities, big Manchester issues, not a mixture of the National Enquirer and the Police News. Why not an investigation as to why the crime figures have dipped?

This isn't about brushing unpalatable truths under the carpet, more about being more imaginative in finding other facts to represent. It's not about being artificially positive, more about reflecting the reality of Manchester life.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on twitter @JonathSchofield

Crime figures

Comparisons from April 2009-March 2010 and April 2010-March 2011

Total crime has dropped from 247,574 to 227,855, a drop of eight per cent meaning 19,719 fewer victims of crime

54,000 fewer reported incidents of antisocial behaviour

7,400 fewer victims of vehicle crime

Domestic burglaries have dropped by more than 1,700

Nearly 1,400 more detected crimes

Murders dropped by four, from 31 to 27

Firearm discharges are down by nearly a quarter and are at their lowest level since this type of crime started to be recorded in 2003/04

Gang-related firearms discharges have dropped from 13 to three

The number of robberies has dropped to just under 4,900, compared to more than 6,000 the previous year and nearly 7,700 in 2006/07

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Eddy LittlejohnApril 10th 2011.

I blame Gordon Brown. Im not sure what for but i blame him anyway.

ConManApril 10th 2011.

I blame the roadworks on Chapel Street.

D KesslerApril 10th 2011.

I blame the snow: why should burglars think different to shoppers?

Secret SquirrelApril 11th 2011.

That 1,400 extra detected crimes are probably PCSO's catching people dropping litter.

NoMoreInsideJobsApril 12th 2011.

Good secret squirrel , litter louts are scum.

Daily MailApril 12th 2011.

I'm disgusted, bring back hanging, chop off their goolies

malbyApril 15th 2011.

Get the goood news out while you can as with increasing levels of unemployment, increses in University Tuition fees and decreases in grants for poor students in FE the figures arn't going to get any better than this in the coming year..... my prediction is January 2012 for the bad news to hit the headlines!

JohnApril 16th 2011.

Of course, a more cynical explanantion could be that the target driven police are massaging the figures, something that happens in any occupation when targets are introduced plus people's dwindling faith in the police doing anything more dynamic than filling out a crime report is probably addding to the reduction in reported crime.

AnonymousApril 16th 2011.

yes @Malby just wait til the full effects of the cuts here in the inner city suburbs are felt too especially now we have lost our youth provision! there will no doubt be a corresponding increase in crime, petty or otherwise despite what they tell you, ask any youth worker, all thanks to Sir Richard the very person who started off his "career" as a youth worker at Abraham Moss in Crumpsall!! One would predict that as the summer months go on and the middle classes realise they can't afford their 4 star vacations and 4x4's any more, thats when the city and the country will see real discontent with more demonstrations and strikes throughout. We'll see eh?

AnonymousApril 17th 2011.

Great article here on how crime is reduced - what about rape reports and convictions - have they gone up too? And by the way, what about 'domestic' violence? Are 2 women a week still being killed by their partner or ex? Did domestic violence go up much when Utd lost? When are those figures released?

Not trying to be clever, would just like a complete picture. cheers

AnonymousApril 27th 2011.

10 days and no answer - oh I forgot - this subject is taboo. maybe that's why nothing's done about it!

Jonathan Schofield - editorApril 27th 2011.

Anon, nothing sinister, its just we can't magic these numbers from the air

GimboidApril 27th 2011.

Listening to BBC Manchester last week it did seem that the police do like to spin crime figures of any nature positively.
The main thrust of the story was that overall crime was down, and this was a positive thing. Sex crime had increased, but this was also a positive thing because it meant that reporting had increased. Surely the same thing could apply to crimes of any nature, meaning that in GMP's narrative both increased and decreased crime numbers are a good thing! Hmm.

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