Thursday 23 August 2012

How crime statistics can be doctored

COMMENT Is the crime rate down? Yes, relying on the statistics provided by the police and government think-tank Pemandu. Is that a true reflection of the crime situation? The answer is certainly a big ‘NO'.

In the police force, crime is basically divided into two categories. One is ‘index crime' and the other, ‘non-index crime'. The statistics made available by the police are only those cases which come under the ‘index crime' category.

‘Index crime' is defined as a crime which is reported with sufficient regularity and with sufficient significance to be meaningful as an index to the crime situation.
Essentially, it means the index is the yardstick to gauge the crime situation of a given place, the district, state or the whole country. The index crime statistics will show whether the crime has increased or decreased.

Selangor police chief DCP Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah jewellery seized‘Non-index crime', on the other hand, is considered as cases minor in nature and do not occur with such rampancy to warrant their inclusion into the crime statistics or as a benchmark to determine the crime situation.

‘Index crime' consists of two categories - ‘violent crime' and ‘property crime'.

‘Violent crime' comprises murder, rape, armed robbery with accomplice, robbery with accomplice, armed robbery, robbery, and causing hurt. Meanwhile, ‘property crime' comprises theft, car theft, motorcycle theft, heavy vehicle theft, snatch theft, and burglary. These are the crimes used as statistics to portray the crime situation.

In 2009, the government came up with the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) and ‘crime' was amongst the National Key Result Area (NKRA). The Key Performance Index (KPI) set for the police on July 27, 2009 under the NKRA was to reduce crime by 20 percent.

hishammuddin hussein dang wangi police station 2That tall order to reduce crime by 20 percent was a dilemma for the police. The police knew that the demand is idealistic and not feasible to be achieved. Any criminologist will argue that crime is the product of socio-economic factors and the police, being a part of the criminal justice system, cannot alone tackle this issue.

However, in upholding its dignity and image, the police succumbed to the political pressure in agreeing to achieve the targeted KPI set under the NKRA.

With the prevailing policing standard and practice, the police may be able to contain the crime situation to a certain extent, but to reduce it by 20 percent is absolutely an impossible feat.

So, in desperate times, desperate measures are taken.

Changing the classification
The police came up with an ingenious way of achieving the target. The principle behind the plan is, well, if this is what the political masters want, then we shall give it to them.

As said earlier, crime statistics consist of only the ‘index crime'. As such, the police can gradually lowered the crime rate by shifting cases from index crime to non-index crime. The shifting is done at the time the police report is lodged.

There are several types of crime where the classification can be manipulated from index to non-index. This begins at the police district level which receives crime reports and subsequently transmits the data to the state police headquarters and federal police headquarters.

The crimes which were manipulated are:
  • Robbery cases under the Penal Code was classified as index crime. This offence is subsequently reclassified as a non-index crime under section 382 of the Penal Code. Since section 382 of the Penal Code is a non-index crime, it will not be reflected in the crime statistics.
  • Burglary under section 457 of the Penal Code is an index crime. This offence is reclassified as a non-index crime under sections 452 or 453 of the Penal Code. Since sections 452 and 453 of the Penal Code are non-index crimes, they will not be reflected in the crime statistics.
  • Causing hurt under sections 324 and 326 are index crimes. These offences are reclassified under section 148 of the Penal Code. And since section 148 of the Penal Code is a non-index crime, it will not be reflected in the crime statistics.
The under classification of the index crime to non-index crime runs into several thousand cases. Removing these cases from the crime statistics will eventually lead to a lower crime rate.

A simple way of ascertaining the extent of cases taken off from the index crime category for the purpose of reducing the crime statistics is by asking the police to provide the statistics of cases classified under sections 148, 382, 452 and 453 of the Penal Code since the implementation of the NKRA.

A comparison should be made with the statistics of cases under the said sections in the last three years preceding the NKRA. You will discover a sudden hike in the number of cases under those sections.

The result will confirm that for the period of three years prior to NKRA, cases classified under sections 382, 452 and 453 are almost nil and under section 148, there may be a few reported cases.

Other ways to lower crime stats

Other factors that suppress the crime statistics during the NKRA period include the following:

There are many cases under the ‘index crime' category that are not opened for investigation and were closed with no further action (NFA). These cases involve robberies, snatch thefts and burglaries.

The police take no further action for the reason there is no sufficient ground for proceeding with the matter if the suspect cannot be identified, the loss is minimal or there is no lead to proceed further. There are thousands of cases of this nature and since these cases are not opened for investigation, they will not be reflected in the crime statistics.

No profiling is done on these cases. Without such profiling, the trend, pattern, target areas and possible suspects could not be studied to address the recurrence of these incidents.

Brickfields OCPD Abdul Wan Bari Wan Abdul Khalid leading Ops Tawan bangsar village 5There are also cases downplayed in order to achieve the required KPI. Say, for example, on a particular day, there are 10 cases of burglaries reported in a certain housing area. Only one case will be opened for investigation and the other nine cases will be cross-referred to the one case that was opened.

For the 10 cases of burglaries, the statistics should be 10 cases of ‘index crime'. Since there is only one case that is opened for investigation, the other nine cases will not be reflected in the ‘index crime' statistics.

‘Dark figures' (crimes not reported) are also not factored into the crime statistics. There is a theory that for every 10 cases reported, there will be one case not reported. People do not report crime when they have lost faith in the police.

Lack of faith may arise when the people have the impression that the police will not treat the report seriously; ineffective investigation due to incompetence; practicing double standards; no confidence the police can solve the case or bring justice to the victim or can recover the lost items; discriminative investigation based on the person's background, influence or status in society; minor trauma or losses treated with scorn; cases can be compromised by suspects getting away through bribery or influence be it political or social standing; exhaustive in going to the police station and lodging report; and last but not least, distrust and suspicion of the police force.

Overall, the crime has indeed gone up. There are many flaws in the statistics dished out to the public. The statistics was tailored to justify the KPI and appease the powers-that-be. It is better for the police to tell the truth and shame the devil.

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