Police close investigations without identifying a suspect in three quarters of reported vehicle thefts, four in five residential burglaries and almost half of shoplifting cases, new analysis shows.
Across the three offence types, hundreds of thousands of probes are shut with no suspected culprit in the frame, the Press Association found.
The revelations prompted warnings that victims could be put off reporting offences, while criminals are given a “green light to reoffend”.
Police chiefs say increased demand and reduced officer numbers mean they have to prioritise cases where there is a realistic chance of prosecution.
Figures for shoplifting, theft or “unauthorised taking” of a motor vehicle, and residential burglary were extracted from Home Office crime outcomes data for the 43 territorial forces in England and Wales, plus British Transport Police.
The analysis, which covers the 12 months to March and reflects the position as of June, found:
-Recorded shoplifting and vehicle theft levels are at their highest in years
-Some of the country’s largest forces were among those with the highest percentages of cases closed without a suspect being identified
-At the time the data was collected charges or summonses had been issued for 4% of recorded vehicle thefts and 5% of residential burglaries
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs committee, said: “Too many investigations are closing without suspects being identified and we are hearing increasing reports of the police being too overstretched to investigate.
“Police forces are under immense pressure with rising serious and violent crime and changing patterns of crime alongside cuts in the numbers of officers and PCSOs.
“These figures suggest that investigations into volume crimes are now being hit. Failing to identify suspects gives criminals a green light to reoffend.”
Alex Mayes, of charity Victim Support, said: “News like this could undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and prevent people reporting in the future.”
The 44 forces logged 106,334 offences of theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle in 2017/18, the highest tally for an equivalent period since 2009/10.
For 81,788 of these offences, the outcome was “investigation complete – no suspect identified”.
This is used when a reported crime has been investigated “as far as reasonably possible” and the case is closed pending further investigative opportunities.
The percentage of vehicle thefts in this category nationally, 77%, was up by one percentage point compared with the previous year.
West Midlands Police and the Metropolitan Police closed 91% and 85% of vehicle thefts they recorded without a suspect being identified respectively, the analysis found.
Only City of London Police had a higher percentage, at 96%, although it recorded the smallest number of such offences, with 54.
All but five forces closed over half of these cases without identifying a suspect.
RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams said motorists will be “shocked” by the findings.
“This is a sign that thieves have found ways around car security systems and have ways of selling vehicles on with little or no fear of being caught,” he said.
“The fact fewer suspects are being identified is very worrying and no doubt a symptom of the declining number of police officers and the resulting reduction in time that can be dedicated to investigating these crimes.”
The total number of recorded shoplifting offences, 382,100, is the highest for an April-March period since national crime recording standards were introduced in 2002.
In nearly half of cases (47%), investigations ended without a suspect being identified, a rise of four percentage points year-on-year.
Leicestershire Police had 63% of shoplifting crimes in this bracket, followed by Greater Manchester Police with 59%.
Across all forces, 81% of a total 249,235 residential burglary offences recorded in 2017/18 were closed without a suspect being identified.
West Midlands (90%), Greater Manchester Police and the Met (both 88%) were among those with the highest percentages of residential burglaries assigned the outcome.
Deputy Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for acquisitive crime, said increased demand and fewer officer numbers have led to forces prioritising cases with a realistic prospect of prosecution.
She added: “Police investigate all cases of theft, burglary and shoplifting. Particularly for these types of offences, police focus on targeting prolific offenders, organised crime networks, and ensuring prevention measures by homeowners and businesses are in place.”
The Met said its new crime assessment policy does not mean some crime types are not investigated, adding that cases initially screened out can be reopened if forensic work produces results.
West Midlands Police said it is committed to following the trail of evidence in all cases but if an investigation finds no witnesses, CCTV or forensic evidence then the chance of identifying offenders is “vastly reduced”.
Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling said a reduction in officer numbers and the “changing nature and complexity” of crime “means that we have to focus our resources where they are needed most”, adding that if credible information comes to light that could lead to an offender’s identification after a case is closed, it will be thoroughly investigated.
Detective Chief Inspector Chris Baker, of Leicestershire Police, said every crime report is reviewed by an investigator and the decision to classify an offence with the “no suspect identified” outcome is not taken lightly.
City of London Police said vehicle crime is a priority for the force, adding: “A dedicated operation has been established to tackle this crime type which typically occurs in car parks and areas with limited public footfall.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We expect the police to take all reports of crime seriously, to investigate and to bring the offenders to court so that they can receive appropriate punishment.
“However we recognise that crime is changing and police demand is becoming increasingly complex. That is why we have provided a strong and comprehensive £13 billion funding settlement to ensure the police have the resources they need to carry out their vital work.
“The Government remains alert to changes in trends and new methods used by criminals – and we will continue to work with the police, industry and others to consider the evidence and what more can be done to prevent these crimes taking place.”