Now you see it, now you don’t

Friday, May 8, 2015 - 10:57
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In his latest opinion piece for FleetPoint, Martin Wedge asks if the fleet sector be policing its own theft figures?

It is a far cry from lies, damn lies and statistics, but the latest figures concerning the drop in vehicle thefts over the last decade speak volumes about what is no longer officially recorded and more importantly why. How can we manage a perceived problem, unless we are accurately measuring it?

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of vehicles stolen in England and Wales has fallen by 70% in the past decade with the crime now at its lowest point since 1968.

They say that 69,547 vehicles were stolen last year, compared to 231,323 in 2004 and that theft fell by 1.2%, or 842 incidents, compared with 2013. With more than 36 million vehicles on the road, today’s figures show that just 0.2% of all vehicles were stolen in 2014.

The SMMT says the continued reduction reflects greater effort by manufacturers to help secure more vehicles through the investment of billions of pounds to stay ahead of criminals. The introduction of advanced security systems as standard has helped to make vehicles harder to steal.

I don’t doubt the figure or the rationale, but what about the dramatic reduction in police responses to such run of the mill crime precipitated by unprecedented cuts in law enforcement and the re-aligning of force priorities – the so-called under-reporting phenomenon? The result: fewer theft, burglarlies, etc get recorded because there is a perception that police will not be able to do anything about it and ‘the insurance industry will pay for it anyway’. The problems have become so acute that in some parts of the UK there is an unofficial ‘decriminalisation’ programme of certain offences. I would suspect the hire car and plant hire sectors are among the victims of this issue and the quid pro quo here is that the official figures report a huge drop in crime.

The SMMT hinted at this in its call to the authorities to collect more detailed data about how vehicles are being stolen because there is currently little nationwide understanding of trends in types of vehicle theft because only a small number of police forces collect and analyse this data. This can lead to skewed public perceptions about the regularity of certain types of vehicle theft across the country.

However, if police are pulling back from certain non-priority crimes, why and how could they record how the vehicles are stolen? In addition, how would they know if the vehicle is taken and never returned? There is evidence as well that the police are pushing this kind of research back to the industry, so rather than rely upon the ONS it might be the fleet sector or SMMT that has to police its figures in the future.

Martin Wedge is Managing Director at OVL Group, a specialist car leasing firm.

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