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The UK should become a world leader in crime prevention

A new report from the Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales, chaired by Sir Michael Barber, argues that the UK currently lacks a proper strategy to prevent crime.  

Too many crimes are being committed that could be prevented through simple precautionary steps to make products and services safer and through measures that would steer potential future offenders away from crime. Given the UK’s research expertise in crime science it could become a world leader in crime and harm prevention but only if it takes a systematic approach with strong leadership and coordination from the government.    

The report, published by the Police Foundation, sets out interim findings from the Strategic Review of Policing.  The report contains compelling evidence that the best way to reduce crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  For example, it is now clear that it was improved home and vehicle security measures, more than tougher prison sentences or changes to policing tactics, that led to a 74% fall in burglary and a 79% fall in vehicle theft since 1995. 

The report argues that new ‘volume crimes’, such as online child sexual abuse could be tackled in similar ways. With over 17 million reports of online child sexual abuse imagery reported globally in 2019, the growing number of offences could be significantly reduced through improved use of technology. For example, website warnings and pop ups could be used more systematically to deter potential viewers of abusive imagery and greater use of identity verification could create safer spaces for children online.   

With many new crimes growing faster than the criminal justice system can deal with them, the Police Foundation today presents four recommendations that would enable the UK to become more strategic in its approach to crime and harm prevention. The government should:  

  • Create a lead national agency which would take responsibility for crime and harm prevention.  This could work to systematically prevent crime in the same way that the Health and Safety Executive has worked successfully to prevent accidents at work and the Civil Aviation Authority has worked to prevent accidents in the air. 
  • Establish a new cross departmental government strategy on crime and harm prevention, under the direct leadership of the Prime Minister. 
  • Impose a “duty to prevent crime” across the private sector so that companies are asked to invest upfront in making sure their products and services are secure.  
  • Repurpose the cluttered landscape of crime prevention agencies at the local level, for example by widening the remit of Violence Reduction Units to include all local crime and by giving Community Safety Partnerships a new role and additional resources. 

Rick Muir, Director of the Police Foundation and author of the report said “Politicians of all parties agree on the importance of preventing crime and yet we lack a proper strategy to achieve this. While the police own the problem of crime detection, no one owns the problem of crime prevention.  We need a single national body to take responsibility for preventing crime and to coordinate a truly cross government approach.  Given our unrivalled research base in crime science the UK could be a world leader in crime prevention.  We should aim to take the same kind of systemic approach to preventing crime that we take to preventing accidents at work or in the air.”  

Download the report