According to research for the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms, four in 10 police forces in England and Wales are missing opportunities to detect crime linked to gambling because they do not ask about it when interviewing people in custody.
Although gambling harms and addiction have been found to be connected to offences including violence, theft, arson and criminal damage, only about two in 10 forces screen for them routinely in custody suites. Of the other forces, only half appear to be aware of the issue.
The findings have emerged from research conducted by Dr Helen Churcher of the Howard League for Penal Reform. It is the third major research project to be undertaken by the Commission, which was set up by the Howard League and is chaired by Lord Goldsmith QC.
Earlier reports, focused on sentencing and the lived experience of people affected by crime and gambling harms, were published by the Commission in October 2021 and March 2022 respectively.
The Commission is investigating the links between gambling harms and crime, what impact they have on communities and wider society, and what steps could be taken to reduce crime and make people safer.
Lord Goldsmith QC, chair of the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms, said: “Although there is growing evidence of the links between gambling and crime, the Commission has found that too little is being done within the criminal justice system to address the issue and protect people from harm.
“With four in 10 forces stating that they do not screen for gambling harms at the police station, clearly opportunities to reduce crime and help people to turn their lives around are being missed.
“The Commission’s work should pave the way for change so that not only police, but also prosecutors, magistrates, judges and probation officers, become more aware of the issue and how to tackle it.”
The Commission’s report, Police awareness and practice regarding gambling related harms, explains that Freedom of Information requests were sent to 44 police forces in England and Wales, seeking details of existing screening and treatment practices for gambling harms and addiction.
Police forces were also asked to provide details of crimes they had dealt with, which involved gambling harm and addiction. The responses indicated that, as well as acquisitive crime, forces had recorded a wide range of offences with links to gambling harm, including cases of assault, arson, criminal damage and sexual offences.
The report identifies a need for improved awareness of gambling harms and addiction, with recommendations for police forces, police and crime commissioners and the policing watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.