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Friday, 19 July 2013

What is Your Crime Excess?

I am moving home and yesterday had to insure my new house - the building itself. I did the job over the phone. Before they could finalise a Quote for me, I had to pick an Excess. That's the amount I will contribute to the cost of any repairs myself before claiming money back from the insurance company. Offered a range between £50 and £1000, I chose £1000. I would rather simply pay for small works to be done than get on the phone, fill in forms, arrange inspections and all the rest you have to go through before you get (maybe get) a pay out from an insurance company which then promptly increases next year's insurance premium.

Yesterday I also read that police numbers in the UK are falling and that at the same time crime is falling. That sounds to me like cause and effect.

Some people will go to the police if they think they have suffered £50 worth of harm; others will only go if the harm exceeds £1000. Make the police less accessible - fewer police, fewer police stations, longer waits in line - and the average harm level at which people will go to the police will rise. So reported crime will fall.

Some people will think that some things are so trivial that they should not bother the police with them. Others will think about the hassle, the waits in line, the low probability of the police doing anything, the even lower probability of anything coming to court .. and they will decide it's not worth going to the police.

In other words, everyone has a  Crime Excess in their head and it's different for different people. Let me give a small example.

Some years ago, I was leaving my office in the city of Brighton & Hove.As I turned round from locking the door I noticed three or four teenage boys on the other side of the road. For some reason they started cat-calling me. I found that odd; I wasn't wearing my funny hat (I sometimes wear funny hats) and I wasn't behaving oddly. I was clearly someone leaving work. Maybe they were a bit drunk. Daytime drunkenness is not unknown in this city. So I simply began my walk home. The boys stayed on the other side of the road and continued to jeer. Then something whizzed across the road and an egg struck the pavement in front of me. I looked across the road and the boys ran away. I walked home thinking, What was that all about?

In those circumstances, someone with a mental £50 Crime Excess would have phoned the police station and reported the incident. Maybe the police would have been interested if it added to a pattern of reports. Maybe they would have asked for a Statement. Maybe not.

But I have a £1000 Excess in my head. I preferred to go home, eat my dinner, and read my book. I had no desire to spend time on the phone to the police, reporting a very small incident. In any case, I could not have given any useful description of the boys.

Had the incident been repeated, then I would no doubt have begun to approach my £1000 Crime Excess and maybe on a third occasion I would have reached it. But the boys never re-appeared. So as far as crime statistics are concerned, nothing ever happened.

If you cut police numbers, close police stations, reduce opening hours, create longer waits on the telephone you just make it more likely that people won't report what they regard as minor crime. It just ain't worth the trouble. And in any case, the newspapers at the moment are telling you that the police are really only interested in crimes committed by celebrities or committed many years ago.

Postscript 10 April 2014:

I have been tested. Last week the building in which I have a small office was burgled. I discovered the burglary when I was first-in on Saturday morning. All seven offices had had their doors smashed in. I phoned the building Manager who came in and reported the forced entry to the building and each of the offices to the police. Over the phone, the Police gave him a Crime reference number. Six or seven hours later Forensics came to investigate. I had told the Manager that uninsured items had been stolen from my office with a value well into four figures. And I told Forensics the same when they came to look at my office (but really to make conversation since I assumed it isn't their job to interest themselves in such things). But I have not mademy own Crime report to the Police and weighing up the relationship between the time and effort that would take and the probability of recovering my lost items, I have no plans to do so. So it looks like my Crime Excess is currently well into four figures. Nor have I turned detective and gone on ebay or round local second-hand shops or whatever you would do if you wanted to be a Do It Yourself sleuth.

Added 25 July 2018: the ideas in the Blog post are now developed in the chapter "Crimes and Punishments" in my book, The Best I Can Do (degree zero 2016), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones, and other booksellers

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