While researching Taking its Toll, a report written with Policy Exchange on the regressive impact of property crime, some troubling facts became clear. In the year to March 2014 there were an estimated 6.85 million victims of theft in England and Wales, representing 1 in 10 of the population. Yet a significant proportion of property crime is not reported to police: a third of burglaries and 90 per cent of shoplifting incidents go unreported.
In a climate of heightened threats to our national security, the police are struggling to keep up. Last year around 19,000 bicycles were reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police yet only 666 (3.5 per cent) of these thefts were solved. Estimates show that only five per cent of burglaries end up with an alleged offender in court. A key reason why so much shoplifting is not reported is because over a third of shopkeepers have lost faith in the ability of police to prosecute thieves successfully. Under these circumstances it is no wonder that there are increasing reports of organised crime groups diversifying into shoplifting as a low-risk way to make money.
Most concerning of all is the regressive effect property crime has on deprived communities. The most disadvantaged are less able to cope with the financial shock associated with theft and they are the least likely to have insurance cover. They are more likely to be in rented housing, which has heightened risk factors for burglary, snatch theft and pickpocketing. Tenants are often unable to improve the security of their home (for example by investing in high-quality locks and alarm systems), so they will repeatedly be victims. This keeps them in poverty and erodes their quality of life.
In my report I recommend some measures that will help address the worst excesses of property crime and the harm it causes to our communities. These include the restoration of neighbourhood policing teams, improvements to sentencing practice for magistrates, the application of mapping, as well as statistical and data analysis, to property crimes, and a renewed emphasis within police forces on preventing crime from being committed in the first place.
It must be made clear that we are on the side of the victims, not the thieves and vandals. We must punish those who deprive others of their hard-earned possessions. And we must discredit the idea that property crimes are victimless: they are not and never have been.
David Lammy is the MP for Tottenham and author of Policy Exchange’s report, Taking its Toll: the regressive impact of property crime