Police downgrading offences to meet targets has exaggerated the fall in crime, say the ONS. But experts tell Channel 4 News that a rise in under-reported crime against retailers could be the reason.

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Police-recorded crime figures came under scrutiny after they reported a crime rate fall of almost twice the rate of the crime survey of England and Wales (CSEW) over the last five years.

Police records appeared to "overstate the true rate at which crime has been falling" by failing to take into account 400,000 offences in that five-year time, according to an analysis by the ONS.

The ONS listed a number of reasons that could be behind the discrepency, including a culture of hitting targets. But Professor Martin Innes, Universities Police Science Institute director, told Channel 4 News that an important factor was a rise in business or retail crime that went under-reported.

Crimes against businesses

The profile of crime is moving from the street, to the world of retail and business, Professor Innes said. This number of crimes against businesses was recorded for the first time this year, showing 9.2 million incidents, and the increase in this area was acknowledged by the British Retail Consortium, which reported a 15 per cent rise in crime.

But while victims of this crime would be willing to report offences in a survey, they are less likely to report it to police, said Professor Innes.

"Crimes such as shoplifting, fraud, what they call 'stock shrinkage' and employee related theft as well – the chances of getting away with it are quite high, because businesses weren't necessarily reporting it to the police," he said, adding that the discrepency is "a major concern": "Increasingly in an era of shrinking police resources, you need to get the data right so you can target limited resources to where is needed."

Overall drop in crime

Police-recorded offences fell by 33 per cent between 2006/7 and 2011/12, while survey data suggested a decline of 17 per cent.

Overall, the new crime figures for 2012 released on Wednesday showed an 8 per cent fall in crime to 8.9 million offences, mainly as a result of fewer burglaries, vehicle thefts and vandalism offences.

The ONS blamed a target culture for the discrepancy in police-recorded and surveyed figures, as police officers come under an "informal pressure" to slash crime.

Police make 'judgement call'

"Some lower level crimes, there is a judgment call to be made as to whether the incident attended to by the officer is actually a crime in law or a low level incident that would not get into the crime figures,” said John Flatley, head of the ONS crime statistics.

"It's possible in an era of targets to cut crime and pressure on officers to see a reduction in crime that their judgment will sway more to including that in the lower level category."

Overall, the new crime figures for 2012 released on Wednesday showed an 8 per cent fall in crime to 8.9 million offences, mainly as a result of fewer burglaries, vehicle thefts and vandalism offences.