The stark difference between the public perception of crime figures and the reality points to a fundamental lack of confidence.
By Javed Khan
Good news for the police: the number of crimes has fallen from 10.4 million in 2008/9 to 9.5 million in 2009/10. But the bad news is that even though there were nearly a million less instances of crime in England and Wales, most people still think that crime is on the up.
These figures, from the Office for National Statistics' social trends series, signal a stark difference between the reality and perception of crime. People's belief that crime is increasing when it is not is arguably linked to their lack of confidence in the British criminal justice system. Victim Support's own research shows that public confidence in how the system treats victims is low with only a third (36%) of the general public believing the system meets the needs of victims. But why is this?
We know, through the help and support we give to thousands of victims and witnesses of crime every day, that too often people are kept in the dark about how their case is progressing or whether it is even being investigated by the police.
Our recent research of over 1,100 victims of crime showed that nearly half thought that they weren't treated fairly and just over a third who reported a crime were not told what, if anything, had happened afterwards.
One such instance is that of a single man who had his front door broken down and his flat burgled. The burglar took CDs and items of sentimental value. While the police did a great job in securing his property because he was away from home when it happened, he didn't hear anything more after the forensics team left. He said that not knowing what happened led to him worrying about it happening again and what he might find when he got home from work each day.
This is one of the thousands of examples that should remind us of the need for justice agencies to treat victims and witnesses as people – and not just another statistic. They need to be informed about the progress of the investigation and to be kept in the loop. Being a victim or witness of crime can be devastating enough and we need to be careful that these people do not feel 're-victimised' while they are going through the criminal justice system.
Victim Support's research shows that victims need to be better informed, sentencing decisions need to be clearer and justice done quicker. Victims need to be able to put the crime behind them, knowing that justice has been carried out so that they can move forward with their lives.
The overall fall in crime over recent years is testament to the hard work of the police and criminal justice agencies. Police forces are becoming more innovative in ways to keep victims informed and I'm impressed, for example, by the Avon and Somerset police's 'track my crime' website. But it is important that work like this continues so that confidence in the system is improved and that victims and witnesses are kept better informed.
Javed Khan is chief executive of Victim Support.
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