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Sunday, March 05, 2006

PICK YOUR NUMBERS

Big call from Tim Lambert: “Crime and violent crime in Britain peaked in the early 90s and [have] since plummeted.” His source? The British Crime Survey, an annual affair which asks some 40,000 Brits if they’ve been encrimed during the previous year. Is it trustworthy? Depends which side you’re on:

The political discussion about crime is often a numbingly boring argument about statistics. Overall crime recorded by the police seems to have risen (so the Conservatives rely on this statistic) while crime reported by the public seems to have fallen (so Labour rely on that).

Here’s an example, from the BBC, of that Labour/Conservative divide in action:

Violent offences in England and Wales reached record levels in 2004-5 with police recording one million crimes - up 7% from the previous year ...

[Labour] Minister Hazel Blears ... told the BBC that the separate British Crime Survey, which interviews people to ask if they have been crime victims, showed a decrease in violent crime.

But [Conservative] shadow home secretary David Davis said the police figures were “further evidence that the government continues to fail on violent crime”.

I’d lean towards the official police figures myself (although jerked-around crime counting methods make comparisons problematic), mainly because they’re, you know, official police figures. The British Crime Survey is just a survey.

And one with limits that might call into doubt its value as a definitive indicator of “crime and violent crime in Britain.” For example, certain crimes aren’t included in the survey:

* Drug dealing

* Crimes committed against individuals under 16 years of age (a Home Office estimate last year suggested that 14.7 million crimes were committed against children and adults, up from the survey’s 10.8 million adults-only figure)

* Rape and other sexual offences (In 2002, 11,676 rape cases reached court; only 655 resulted in conviction)

* Crimes against business

And there’s one other crime the survey doesn’t measure, because its victims don’t tend to answer telephones:

* Murder

So Lambert’s view is based on data that excludes statistics on all of the above. Interesting; seems he’s as much a cherry picker as Lumpp and Loftus, or whoever those guys are he’s always carrying on about. Britain’s murder rate is increasing:

Britain’s murder rate for the population as a whole has almost doubled in the past 20 years, with young men from poor backgrounds by far the most likely victims.

Last year Home Office statistics recorded 833 murders in England and Wales, compared with just 565 a decade ago.

Author and academic Norman Dennis—a member of the Labour Party, as it happens—dismisses talk of a crime decline:

Part of the problem, Mr Dennis maintains, is that the Home Office, along with a lot of academic criminologists, insist on denying the most fundamental fact about crime in Britain: that it has been, and is, increasing.

“That denial is just silly,” he says. “Fifty years ago, there weren’t 400 street robberies in the whole of Britain. In 2001, there wasn’t a single month in the borough of Lambeth – that is just one London borough – in which there were fewer than 400 street robberies. Crimes against the person involving violence go up every year. There is no doubt about that at all.”

From the same link, London and New York compared:

There were more than 2,300 murders a year in New York in 1991 and well over 100,000 street robberies. London, by comparison, had 181 murders and 22,000 street robberies in that year.

Last year, there were 538 homicides in New York. That means the murder rate has decreased by a factor of five over the past 13 years. London’s murder rate has not reduced at all over the same period: there were 186 homicides in the capital last year.

More astonishing still is the comparison in the statistics for street robberies. In 2003, the last complete year for which records are available, there were just 24,334 street robberies in New York – while in London, 38,490 people were robbed in the street.

It takes some time for the significance of that statistic to sink in. New York, from having had a rate of street robbery five times that of London a decade ago, now has 14,000 fewer street robberies every year than our capital.

More on the British Crime Survey and official police figures here; worthwhile Samizdata thread here.

Posted by Tim B. on 03/05/2006 at 09:45 AM
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