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Crime Definitions

Recorded crime figures (sometimes referred to as notifiable offences) detail those crimes and offences (including attempts) recorded by the police, which are deemed to be indictable, or triable-either-way.  Certain closely associated summary offences are also counted in the recorded crime figures.

  • Indictable offences are those more serious crimes, which are tried on indictment in the Crown Court by a judge and jury.
  • Triable-either-way offences are those offences, which, under certain circumstances, are triable either summarily in a magistrate’s court or on indictment in the Crown Court.
  • Summary offences are less serious and are tried in a Magistrates Court before a resident magistrate with no jury.

The number of crimes recorded by the police is dependent on two factors:

  • Whether the victim or a representative of the victim brings that crime to the attention of the police or on the crime coming to the attention of the police through some other means (such as the police officer being present at the time).
  • Whether that incident is determined as being a recordable offence within the categories laid down by the Home Office in the official counting rules.

Crimes ‘Cleared Up’ by the Police

Clearances (or detections as they may alternatively be known) are, broadly speaking, those crimes that have been ‘cleared up’ by the police.  Crimes are counted as ‘cleared or detected’ in accordance with strict counting rules issued by the Home Office.  They are counted on the basis of crimes rather than offenders.  

For example, if six offenders are involved in a robbery and are all arrested and charged, then this counts as one clearance.  Alternatively if only one of the six is identified and charged while the other five remain unidentified and go free, this also counts as one clearance.  In this respect clearance data differs from conviction data as conviction data counts offenders while clearance data counts crimes.

The following methods of clearance involve a formal sanction:

  • Charging or issuing a summons to an offender (this will not necessarily result in a subsequent conviction at court)
  • Issuing a caution to the offender
  • Having the offence accepted for consideration in court
  • The offender is a juvenile who is dealt with by means of an informed warning, restorative caution or prosecutorial diversion

Up to 31 March 2007 offences not involving a formal sanction but which were still regarded as ‘cleared up’ (non sanction clearances) were those where the police took no further action for the following reasons:

  • Offender, victim or essential witness is dead or too ill
  • Victim refuses or is unable to give evidence
  • Offender is under the age of criminal responsibility
  • Police or the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that no useful purpose would be served by proceeding
  • Time limit of six months for commencing prosecution has been exceeded

However, from 1 April 2007 changes were introduced by the Home Office that significantly limit the use of non sanction clearances to specified offences and circumstances, thereby reducing the use of what is regarded as cleared up where no formal sanction is involved to the following reasons:

  • The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) directs no prosecution for an ‘indictable only’ offence
  • The offence is an ‘indictable only’ offence and the case cannot proceed because the offender has died.

'Indictable only’ offences are the most serious types of offences and are those which must be tried in the Crown Court.

Comparing Clearance Rates

The following points should be considered when comparing clearance rates over the last number of years:

  • The change limiting the use of non sanction clearances to specified offences and circumstances introduced from 1 April 2007.
  • In April 2006 the Police Service adopted a higher evidential standard in respect of non sanction clearances (those where no further action is taken by the police, mainly due to the victim not wanting formal action taken by the police or due to no prosecution being directed).  This change was introduced in order to bring these clearance types more closely into line with police services in England and Wales where they have been applying the Crown Prosecution Service evidential test since 2002.  In Northern Ireland the equivalent standard only became relevant to Police Services clearances with the establishment of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in June 2005.  While this has had the effect of reducing the overall clearance rate, sanction clearances (those where a formal sanction is taken against an offender by means of charge, summons, caution or where the offence is taken into consideration at court) remain unaffected.

Clearance Rates

The clearance (or detection) rate is the number of clearances recorded in a given time period as a percentage of the total number of crimes recorded in the same period.

Violent Crime

Violent crime comprises three main offence groupings:

  • Offences against the person
  • Sexual offences
  • Robbery

What violent crime offences have in common is that they involve actual violence or the threat of violence.  The degree of violence varies considerably, even between incidents in the same classification.  The large majority of incidents categorised as violent crime do not actually involve any significant injury to the victim, although some of the crimes not resulting in injury may still be traumatic for their victims e.g. threats to kill.

Vehicle Crime

Vehicle crime comprises the offences of theft from motor vehicles and theft / unauthorised taking of motor vehicles.