Police won’t investigate burglaries if a computer tells them not to bother trying to catch the culprit – in a move that has been slammed as a shocking insult to victims.
Before doing any detailed detective work, officers are simply closing cases after the machine calculates the chances of making an arrest and recovering treasured stolen goods.
Hundreds of burglary investigations have been quietly closed by Norfolk Constabulary this year using the controversial technique, without victims ever being told.
Before doing any detailed detective work, officers are simply closing cases after the machine calculates the chances of making an arrest and recovering treasured stolen goods
Last night, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Ed Davey said: ‘Technology can be great for catching criminals but this project is about selecting which criminals not to catch.’
And a spokesman for Ukip said: ‘The fact that a police force would even consider this approach to investigating serious crimes such as burglary is a gross insult to the victims. The duty of the police is to serve and protect people and property.’
The Norfolk force has seen a ten per cent rise in burglaries in the year to March, yet Home Office figures show that of 99 recent break-ins, only five led to suspects being charged. Another ten were resolved by cautions, five by ‘community resolution’ – such as the burglar saying sorry – and another five by a fine.
Norfolk’s experiment comes as victims nationwide are now increasingly encouraged to report crimes online after hundreds of front counters were shut down, while call waiting times have soared on the 101 non-emergency number.
Police chiefs also want witnesses to write their own statements and supply evidence of car crashes or street crimes from ‘dashcams’ and home CCTV systems.
In another unusual experiment involving burglary cases, Leicestershire Police carried out a three-month project in which scenes of crime teams only visited attempted break-ins at houses with even numbers. Those with odd numbers did not have forensic searches, to see if the difference affected investigations or victim satisfaction.
In the secret Norfolk experiment uncovered by The Mail on Sunday, officers now type in basic facts from the crime scene, such as if fingerprints were found or if the suspect was caught on CCTV. And they will close the case if the computer programme decides there is little chance of it being solved.
The controversial move comes as burglary rates soar and clear-up rates plummet nationwide, while police forces are short of thousands of detectives.
The budget for Norfolk Constabulary has been slashed by 31 per cent since 2010. It has to save a further £4.5 million by 2022, resulting in 150 Police Community Support Officers and seven front counters being axed.1,516 Norfolk police officers as of March 2018 128 fall in their officer numbers since 2010 12% rise in overall recorded count crime in year to March 2018 4,012 burglaries in the Norfolk area during past 12 months
The unprecedented plan to let computers decide the fate of burglary cases instead of detectives has been used by police in Norfolk since January this year but has never before been made public.
Academics from the University of Cambridge designed the new programme to assess the quality of evidence in each case, following an initial visit to the crime scene by officers.
The ‘solvability algorithm’ looks at 29 different factors, comparing the new incident against thousands of previous crimes in the county, before making a judgment as to whether it is likely to lead to arrests.
If the computer decides there are no leads then the case will be closed, although the force insists a staff member reviews each one.
Last night, Harry Fletcher, of the Victims’ Rights Campaign, said: ‘It’s far better that an individual makes these decisions than a computer, because they can take into account the impact on victims.
‘If the victim is elderly or vulnerable the effect of a burglary will be immense. A failure to consider this will risk further losing public confidence.’
A spokesman for the force told The Mail on Sunday: ‘We’ve liaised with academics from the University of Cambridge in relation to the development of an algorithm, which is currently being tested alongside our normal working practices.
‘In all cases of house burglary an officer will attend the scene and carry out an initial