The public may become complacent if it concludes that crime is under control
I noted with interest the recently released comparative crime statistics by the Guyana Police Force which show a decrease by 18 percent in murders (reported or discovered) for the period January to April 2012 vis-à-vis the same period in 2011. Then I was jolted awake with the news of four suspected homicides occurring within a 24-hour period just two weeks into the fifth month.
We are told that the murders are classified as disorderly; domestic, execution, and unknown where the disorderly type results from arguments between two parties, while the domestic murders stem from intimate-partner relationship issues (what do we call it when the father kills his children or where the intimate partners are of the same sex?); executions are identified with criminal enterprise activities.
The ‘unknown’ category is the one in which most often there are unsolved murders where weapon, circumstances or motives are unclear or unknown. It is possible that within the ‘unknown’ category are victims who in fact were the assailants who were killed while they were in the act of committing a felony.
It is important to note that although an investigation may determine the event a justifiable homicide or self-defence, searching and inconvenient questions of appropriate use of force may be the deciding factor against making a police report which is the initial step towards solving an apparent murder. Apart from the exceptions noted above murder is so serious that it is almost always reported by civilians and virtually always recorded carefully by the police.
What I am unclear about, however, is John Q Public’s purported role in decreasing crime or – more accurately, decreased reports of crime. That – in my humble opinion is what the GPF could probably expand on to develop a higher level of cooperation in the public-police partnership framework.
What I am concerned about is that John Q is likely to become complacent and relax his vigilance if he concludes that “crime is under control” and all is well since the police have demonstrated their capacity to respond to the security needs of the citizenry.
Therefore police responsiveness is dependent on the public passing on accurate information and in that important respect crime data could be regarded as belonging in the public domain quite unlike the archaic belief that they are the sole preserve of the police.
Any other approach renders the police ineffective in determining the reliability and validity of information shared and thereby its effectiveness as a crime control tool. People look to the criminal justice system for personal security.
At the community level in addition to accessing crime prevention advice residents need to know what preventative actions are necessary to manage their personal and family crime risks.
In light of the fact that not all crimes are reported to the police, or may not be recorded by the police it becomes problematic if we are to determine the crime rate if we are ignorant of total number of criminal acts under consideration.
Probably one way of capturing these elusive figures could be through a social survey where respondents are required to provide information on crime that is not reported to police, their perceptions of criminal victimization which also covers fear of crime because people are rightly concerned about crime and they want to be safe.
Among the reasons why members of the public might not report crimes to the police are: they may not realise they’ve been a victim, embarrassment, fear of implicating themselves in a criminal act, etc.
We are inundated with reports of increasing crime in the daily newspapers and on the nightly newscasts; gangs emerge; the police keep arresting more and more people and the courts keep sending them to prison. We – the uninitiated are understandably more than a little concerned about the accuracy of official reports which infer that crimes are decreasing.
A word of caution; we need to understand that arrest rates do not necessarily indicate higher crime because the police might simply be pursuing an aggressive arrest strategy.
But to its credit the GPF has always been circumspect in its periodic reports by describing their statistics as representative of reported serious crimes.
However, in the interest of clarity couldn’t we be advised on the range of serious or “index crimes” that are known to the police?
Do these include forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson? How do we group fraud, embezzlement, motor vehicle theft, and arson all of which have a potentially significant monetary impact?
Editor, it would be remiss of me if I closed without pointing out that it is not unknown for some police administrators with pretensions to political and bureaucratic manipulative skills are sometimes tempted to manipulate statistics to put a positive spin on the law enforcement response to crime.
Myriad cases can be found in the developed and developing countries and these take various forms including: arbitrary reclassification of offences by undervaluing costs of stolen or misappropriated property; exaggerate the number of existing gangs etc. to secure additional resources or to introduce an unpopular intervention. Some officials in some emergent democracies have even been known to prey on the susceptibilities (some call it paranoia) of policy makers by providing them with “intelligence analysis” conveniently in keeping with some predetermined reality, all with the sole aim of making themselves and their positions indispensable.
Patrick E. Mentore