Lincolnshire Police dealt with almost 3,400 incidents in one week – but only told the media about 23 of them, an investigation by the Lincolnshire Echo has found.
The newspaper kept a record of all police incidents that were released during seven days in August, and then submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out how many incidents had actually been reported to police in that time.
It found less than one per cent of 3,399 incidents were outlined to the media through the daily briefings and telephone voicebank updates issued by the force’s press office.
The Echo launched its investigation after a row broke out because police waited a week to reveal that two schoolgirls had been the victims of a sexual assault on a playing field.
Police said at the time they did not want to cause undue concern, but feedback from Echo readers argued people had a right to know.
Less than two weeks later police waited three days to reveal that a ten-year-old boy critically injured in a road accident had died in hospital.
Following the Echo’s findings, Lincolnshire Police told the paper that it does pass on as much information as possible to the public.
But Tony Diggins, the force’s head of corporate communications, said legal restrictions such as the Data Protection Act, limited resources and the number of incidents reported to police did limit what could be released.
He said: “We do not censor information but are sensitive to the public’s perception of crime and the fear of crime by what might be interpreted as exaggerated or unbalanced media coverage.
“However, we also balance this against the possibility of detecting crime or finding witnesses to incidents by publicising them, as well as the basic public right to know what is occupying police time.”
An uprovoked late-night assault, a spate of car break-ins and an arson attack by a gang of young people, were among the incidents details of which were not given to the media.
Lincolnshire Echo editor Jon Grubb said readers had a right to feel angry that details of so many crimes had gone unreported.
He said: “They pay a great deal of their hard earned money for the police service and are entitled to information about what is going on in their communities.
“We all know Lincolnshire Police face a hard task in tackling crime and that is why it is so important the public are supportive and play their part in helping reduce crime and trap offenders.
“But how are they supposed to do that if they don’t know what crimes are occurring and where?”
He said concerns about the public’s perception of crime should not be a factor when deciding what information to release.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said of the findings: “It does not surprise me but it does concern me that police still seem incapable of understanding the value of informing the public of what is done in their name and with their money.
“The best way of earning the confidence and respect of the public is to give them information to which they are entitled about everything.”