Why is the clear up rate for crime in the UK so low…?

Only one in 20 offenders in the UK get charged. This is because of two main reasons: Tory funding cuts leading to declining police numbers and the increasingly complex nature of crime.

Last Updated on March 15, 2024 by Karl Thompson

Only one in 20 offenders now get charged, according to a recent BBC Panorama documentary: Will my Crime get Solved…? For burglaries, only 4% of home burglars are charged.

And in 39% of crimes police fail altogether to identify a suspect. 

The documentary does the ususual job of combining case studies and interviews with experts who drill down into the statistics. 

The case studies are with three victims who haven’t had their crimes cleared up. In two of the cases the victims have even done their own work identifying the criminals. However the police haven’t pursued prosecutions in either case, despite having clear evidence. 

Why is there such a low clear up rate for crimes in the UK?

It isn’t due to rising crime rates overall. Most crimes have decreased over the last few decades according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Despite the low prosecution rates, burglary is falling, for example. 

However, two crimes in particular have increased: cybercrime and sexual related violence, mainly against women. 

Both of these crimes are very difficult to get prosecutions for, which goes some way to explain the very low clear up rates for crime. 

Cyber crime has increased dramatically in recent years, and is very difficult to solve because the perpetrators are often unknown, and quite possibly based abroad in the case of organised cybercrime. 

Sexual violence has seen an increase in reporting but it can be difficult to get prosecutions and victims are unwilling to to pursue the peretators in the courts because of fear of retribution, shame, and the historically low chances of getting a successful prosecution 

A second reason for the low clear up rates for crime is that the police are overstretched and increasingly inexperienced. Tory cuts to police funding saw 20 000 police officers leave the force after 2010. These have now been replaced but with younger and less experienced officers. 

And this now less experienced cohort of officers have to deal with increasingly complex crimes compared to a decade ago. This means more time is being spent on cyber crime, sex crimes, but not only that, more police time is being spent on dealing with global crimes too. 

This means that crimes such as burglary have been pushed to the back of the priority list. The police today are under increased pressure given their numbers and lack of experience. 

Public confidence in the police in the UK is at an all-time low.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is very relevant to left-realist criminology which argues victims should be put first when it comes to policing strategies. This evidence suggests such an approach is not working and victims are being let down. With such very low clear up rates, public trust in the police is at an all time low, and left-realist approaches rely on the public trusting and working with the police. 

It also shows us how the police are struggling to cope with the changing nature of crime. 

It is also possibly evidence of how neither left nor right realist approaches to tackling crime control are relevant today. Crime is increasingly global and complex and maybe new and innovative crime control measures are required. 


Declining Trust in the Police

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