BusinessCompany NewsLies, damn lies and statistics …

Lies, damn lies and statistics ...

A recent flurry of conflicting crime figures have been enough to confuse the most eminent criminologists. Home Office figures claim that the number of crimes fell by 7% in the last three months of 2002. Yet the Institute for the Study of Civil Society showed that robberies in London in the first two months of 2003 were almost the same as for the whole of 1980.

The trouble with crime figures is that they appear objective. But they actually depend on crime definitions. When the distinction between major and minor damage ended in 1977, it added 200,000 crimes of vandalism a year to the total.

People also report crimes more enthusiastically when they are outraged by them. If people feel safer they sometimes report crimes they might otherwise shrug their shoulders hopelessly about. Crime awareness campaigns will raise the crime statistics, even though they may also be preventing crimes.

Violence is particularly unacceptable now, so it gets reported. But in 1900, crimes that now seem seriously violent were often charged as a simple assault or drunkenness. Since 1980, the changes have been more subtle, but they’re still there.

  • David Boyle, the editor of The Money Changers (Earthscan).

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