By Scott Newark
I see my analysis of the StatsCan 2009 Police reported crime statistics has ruffled a few feathers and caused some responses both critical and supportive (for instance this piece in Monday’s Winnipeg Free Press). Frankly, that’s a good thing.
As stated in the analysis itself (p.7), the purpose of the review was not to serve as a substitution for the work of Statistics Canada but rather to identify deficiencies in what is being by reported by them in the Police Reported Crime Statistics, to offer insights and examples of the deficiencies and to offer tangible suggestions to create more accurate and relevant information for Canadians. It does exactly that.
Why doesn’t StatsCan report on the criminal profile of the persons for defined offences? Does anyone really think it wouldn’t be helpful for systemic accountability or for operational and policy decision makers not to know how many of the most serious crimes were committed by persons on bail, probation, parole, subject to criminal deportation or with previous federal incarceration.
Does anyone really believe that the methodology used by Statistics Canada doesn’t affect what they report? Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what StatsCan says itself.
There are a number of ways of measuring the incidence of crime and each method will yield a different result. The characteristics of the counting process will affect the count which is obtained. Different data collection systems will produce different figures for the same series of events since the count of events is a reflection of the definitions which are used and the manner in which the data are gathered.(Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics: Policing Services Program- Uniform Crime Reporting (05/Dec.02)
Describing the Crime Severity Index as ‘objective’ is also a stretch for anyone who actually reads how StatsCan describes it which I invite everyone to do.
In the calculation of the CSI, each offence is assigned a weight, derived from sentences handed down by criminal courts. The more serious the average sentence, the higher the weight for that offence. As a result, more serious offences have a greater impact on changes in the Index. (p.9)
Got that? It’s really an undisclosed assessment of undisclosed offences based on sentences..which aren’t disclosed…and which are themselves inherently subjective…that are used for the ‘severity’ assessment. It also isn’t clear whether the ‘sentence’ is what the judge announces for the media (which takes into account extra pre trial credit) or the real sentence which is what’s written on the warrant of committal. How about defined serious offences as the metric?
As for comparative data, lacking a social life, I am aware that Reports prior to 2008 contained crime volume and rate data for the preceding five years and, for some offences, data from ten years previously. They managed to fit it into the same sized reports as the 2009 version so maybe someone should explain why StatsCan chose to reduce the comparative data for more thorough reporting of crime volume and rate trends. Choices are made for a reason.
This is an admittedly complex subject but not everything is discernible only to learned statisticians. From even the reduced comparative data (reduced in 2008) I noticed the following increases in the volume of crimes from 2008 to 2009 that are on the higher end of significance for most people.
*Homicide and attempt murder increased by 84 incidents
*Sex assaults against children increased by1185 incidents
*Using/pointing/discharging a firearm increased by 237 incidents
*Kidnapping/unlawful confinement increased by 76 incidents
*Child porn increased by 205 incidents
*Trafficking (not coke or marijuana) increased by 582 incidents
None of these facts are included in the StatsCan Report “highlights” (pp. 5-6) and I don’t recall hearing about this when their report was released. Do you?
Because StatsCan has also chosen to alter what crimes were included in certain reported categories of crime we are unable to now accurately report changes in robberies with firearms or aggravated assaults/assaults with weapons both of which used to be tracked. From the data I was able to find, the aggravated assault/assault with a weapon increased from 37,500 in 1999 to 49,600 in 2005, a rise of 32 percent, while the rate per 100,000 increased from 123 to 154.
Finally, anticipating the response from the criminology and academia crowd to any criticism, I actually had the Macdonald Laurier Institute include this quote (p. 28) at the release of the Report which has characterized my analysis of crime issues throughout my career “…instead of being “tough” on crime, it’s better to be honest about crime so as to be smart about crime.”
Vitriol aside, I’m glad to see the Report has generated a discussion on these crime statistics that includes the desirability of making them as accurate and relevant as they can be. I hope my Report contributes to that effort but I’d suggest a starting point is for people to actually read it and the StatsCan report it analyses.