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Election manifestos contain too much crime fiction

Experts are warning that politicians are making sweeping promises to reduce crime that are nearly always wrong. This has to stop, which is why researchers and members of the public are questioning the evidence behind crime policy, and calling on politicians to stop misleading voters. 

The 2015 general election manifestos of five of the UK’s biggest parties promise to cut crime by putting more bobbies on the beat (Labour), introducing tougher prison sentences (Conservatives) or tough community sentences (Liberal Democrats), reducing unemployment (Green Party) and deporting foreign criminals (UKIP). Our new Making Sense of Crime guide sets out why such generalisations are misleading: they wrongly assume crime is a single phenomenon to be addressed by headline-grabbing measures, and ignore evidence on what works and what doesn’t in reducing different types of crime.

The guide brings together experts in violent crime, policing, crime science, psychology and the media’s reporting of crime to share insights from this evidence. These insights include:

  • Most types of crime are falling across developed countries and have been for around 25 years, so individual policies don’t have a big effect
  • The most effective ways to cut crime might lie outside the criminal justice system
  • Crime isn’t caused by a single factor such as unemployment, poverty, bad parenting, government cuts or influences such as video games
  • ‘Criminals’ aren’t a separate group from the rest of society
  • Police statistics are not the best way to judge crime rates

Crime exaggeration checklist

Alongside Making Sense of Crime, we have published a checklist to help you spot misleading statements on crime by politicians, commentators and think tanks: 


BBC radio 4 Today Programme (02:49:56) 30th April 2015

Evening Standard Scotland Yard crime fall claim 'based on comments of single officer'
"The Met is facing questions over a publicity campaign boasting of falls in crime in local boroughs after research showed one example was based on claims made by a single officer."

Independent Politicians have little effect on crime – why won’t they admit it?
"Analysis shows there is virtually no evidence to support anything that any of the candidates is pledging when it comes to crime reduction."

Reaction to Making Sense of Crime

Justice Gap Beware politicians making ‘sweeping promises’ to cut crime
"The group’s Making Sense of Crime guide flagged up the ‘persistent belief’ that national crime rates were rising when they weren’t"

Transform Justice Do politicians use evidence in talking about crime?
"Sense About Science are worried that politicians don’t always use evidence correctly when talking about crime.  Their report criticises politicians for ascribing the recent fall in crime to their own policies and for making sweeping statements about the causes of crime."

Deadline News New guide on crime warns against ‘seriously misleading’ election manifestos
"Instead of being misled or having wool pulled over our eyes, it’s time for people to ask for evidence behind crime policy and demand that public figures take account of reliable evidence."

The Conversation The only thing we have to fear is dodgy crime reporting 
"The election is the best chance we have to hold [politicians] to account for the evidence behind their promises."

Belfast Telegraph Election candidates' promises are just criminal
"The reality is that politicians have had virtually no significant influence on rates of crime. For all the huffing and puffing, crime rates have followed strikingly similar trajectories in all industrialised countries around the world." 

Bedfordshire On Sunday Crime cutting manifesto proposals are 'misleading' according to University of Bedfordshire academic
"The guide details how politicians make unsubstantiated claims about the causes of crime and shows how their proposals for reducing it are lacking in substance and ignore the available evidence."

Buzzfeed Common Crime Myths That We Need To Challenge
"There’s always heated debate about crime in the media and a lot of political argument about how we should respond to it. Leading crime experts bust crime myths" 


Chris Peters, director of the Ask for Evidence campaign at Sense About Science: “Crime is one of the top 10 issues people are concerned about in this election. So it’s time for more realistic claims about its causes and remedies. Elections are when we hold those in power to account and that includes making sure people are telling the truth about evidence. The manifestos don’t do that so now researchers and the public are asking for it.”

The crime exaggeration checklist will help you question the evidence behind misleading claims, at the 2015 election and whenever new crime policy is announced. You can do this through our Ask for Evidence campaign tool. Asking puts public figures on notice that they won’t get away with misleading voters on crime with policies that contradict the most reliable evidence.

Contributors to Making Sense of Crime said:

Prateek Buch, policy director of the Evidence Matters campaign at Sense About Science: “Politicians of all stripes, commentators and think tanks make sweeping statements about the causes of crime and policies to tackle it. The best available evidence says they’re wrong, so instead of being misled or having wool pulled over our eyes, it’s time for people to ask for evidence behind crime policy and demand that public figures take account of reliable evidence.”

Nick Ross, Chair of the UCL Jill Dando Institute for Security and Crime Science: “Politicians, commentators and think tanks often cherry-pick studies that support their values, or use poor-quality, uncertain or irrelevant evidence to back up their claims. This has to stop. There are many crime-fighting measures proposed at this election, costing billions, but we can’t tell how wisely that will be spent without knowing how strong the evidence behind these measures is.”

Dr. Alex Sutherland, research leader in communities, justice and safety, RAND Europe: “We can signal disapproval at particular types of crime by increasing punishments, but it is often claimed that measures such as heavier mandatory sentences will reduce the number of these offences (or reoffences) through a deterrent effect. Yet it's hard to find evidence to support blanket claims that ‘getting tough’ on crime is an effective deterrent.”

Professor Daryl O’Connor, Chair-Elect, Research Board, British Psychological Society: “It is essential that policy making in all areas should be based on reliable, robust evidence.  Making Sense of Crime not only challenges policy makers to ensure that policies are made on the basis of the very best available evidence, but also to not be afraid to admit when mistakes are made or when the evidence is not as reliable as it could be.  In addition, there is a responsibility on the media to ensure that its reporting is just not sensationalist and alarmist but is a factual and accurate representation of the issue, whether it be rising or falling crime, police effectiveness or the impact of custodial sentences. We welcome the publication of Making Sense of Crime and have been delighted to be involved in its development.”