Drop in crime figures hides levels of domestic abuse

Serious levels of domestic and child abuse are hiding behind a huge decrease in crime that has come about since the lockdown, according to the Essex police, fire and crime commissioner.

Overall crime in Essex decreased by more than 10 per cent in March compared to the year before, but commissioner Roger Hirst says the force is concerned that people suffering in violent relationships are not coming forward to report the abuse while the lockdown is in place.

The nation has been in lockdown with restrictions over travel and when people can leave their homes since March 23.

But it has also left many people trapped with violent partners and family members. Police forces are unsure though of the amount of domestic abuse that is happening without being reported.

Mr Hirst said: “What we do need to be concerned about and are concerned about is the hidden level of domestic and child abuse happening. It’s just not being reported.

“We don’t know but the suspicion is we need to be alert that sort of thing is happening.

“We have put in place easier ways for people to report abuse. But it is really hard – just imagine how hard it is to report that if you are suffering at home.

“We are gearing up to help victims. When the lockdown starts to relax we think people will start to come forward more.

“That has to be the next thing we need to do.”

The number of incidents of robberies saw the steepest decrease – a drop of almost 45 per cent from 188 reports in March 2019 compared to 104 in March 2020.

Shoplifting also saw a large decrease of 31 per cent, while burglary fell from 1,040 reports in March 2019 to 760 in March 2020 – a fall by 27 per cent.

However, the number of offences related to drugs saw an increase of seven per cent.

Mr Hirst said: “It’s because the offences are down so the amount of response demand on them is lower and actually we have a very low absentee rate – the police have managed their COVID-19 exposure really well – that we have got the capacity to pursue drugs.

“Because of proactive involvement police have the resources to go after drug dealers.

“We have some planned interventions around organised crime as well – we have the capacity to do that sort of thing.

“We are exercising lots of outstanding warrants.”

He added that most people are complying with the lockdown, describing the 145 fix penalty notices issued against people disobeying the rules as “next to nothing”.

Public order offences fell by more than eight per cent, while violence and sex offences fell by more than six per cent.

“Some of this stuff is often driven by alcohol and drug use and by social interaction and people going out and behaving badly with each other,” said Mr Hirst.

“Pub brawls are down 100 per cent.

“Police have a lot of scope to do things well in this environment. Obviously it’s a hugely challenging environment with different challenges from the normal, but there is plenty to be getting on with.

“It’s serving existing warrants, doing proactive policing, problem solving, working on organised crime gangs, bringing evidence together.

“There is a lot that can be done really constructively and of course no one is pretending a lockdown is a good thing but the change in the shape of crime and demand means we need to respond to that and do the best we can in this period.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter