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of justice by the Victorian police. None more important than the controversy surrounding the accuracy of crime statistics released by former Chief Commissioner Simon Overland prior to the November 2010 state election. The crime statistics released were considered by many (Hobday, 2011; Simons, 2011) to be manipulated for political purposes with the data being misleading towards the public (Brouwer, 2011). The decision to release the crime statistics seven days prior to the caretaker period, even though the data was not yet settled , also raised questions regarding the independence of the Victorian police from the then Labor Government. The key issue to surface from this incident was the reliability and validity of crime data produced by the Victorian Police. The lack of credibility of Victoria s crime statistics has been a long standing problem, which has been well criticized over the past decades. It is necessary that crime statistics are accurate so as they can be used effectively to devise public policy (A. Freiberg, 2011). Yet, crime statistics are sill collected, analysed and published by the Victorian police with known inefficiencies and other long standing concerns (Brouwer, 2011). This essay will critically assess the release of crime statistics by Simon Overland; and use this event to further explore the use, abuse and limitations of crime statistics based on the wider academic literature. Before last year s state election (27th of November) the Victorian police publicly released its quarterly crime statistics data on the 28th of October 2010 as authorise by Simon Overland. The crime statistics were highly criticized at the time as being politically motivated (Ricci, 2011). The media release stated that ... the past three months compared to the same three months last year has shown a 27.5% fall in street assaults in the city and a 12.4% decrease in assaults across the state (Brouwer, 2011). This figure painted an image that the Brumby Government ,which was in power at the time, was successfully dealing with street violence within the CBD. An issue that had been dominating Victorian state politics over that year and was expected to feature heavily in the upcoming election. This figure was subsequently used (following the release of the crime statistics) by James Merlino (the police minister for the Labor party) in a public debate three days prior to the election. It was later revealed that this statistic was based on yet to be validated data. The data once settled showed that assaults had in fact increased by 3.8 % and that public offences increased by 28.6% (Brouwer, 2011). However this did not come to light until after the state election had been held. The suspicious nature, with which these crime statistics were selectively released and chosen prompted questions about the relationship between Simon Overland and the then Labor Government (Crawford and Buttler, 2011).
2011). 2011) towards Simon Overland s competence and integrity and ultimately resulted in his resignation. the Victorian Ombudsman found Simon Overland solely responsible for the release of assault statistics which he knew would be inaccurate and false. The Ombudsman however found that there was no evidence that Simon Overland had been politically motivated or corrupt. A major reason for this is based on a phenomenon known as the Dark Figure (Biderman et al. The Ombudsman report into the abuse of crime statistics (Brouwer. The wider literature suggests that crime statistics collected and published by police are generally inaccurate (Sutherland. The Ombudsmen report was considered by many to be damning (McArthur. as the detection of crime is mainly based on citizen complaints or calls of service. This sparked an investigation by the Victoria Ombudsman George Brouwer which was published in June 2011. Therefore if crime goes unreported (for whatever reason) by the general public it is likely to go undetected. For this reason many criminologists believe that crime statistics alone cannot be solely relied on to inform the general public about crime. In the report. it was not until late February 2011 that an official complaint was made by an anonymous whistleblower claiming the statistical data had been manipulated for political purposes. Yet this notion of the dark figure demonstrates that crime statistics are always going to show a crime rate that is below the true crime (Mosher et al. many have questioned the reliability of official crime statistics as a measure of actual crime (Mosher et al. the main one being the effectiveness of the police in catching criminals. 2002). Crime statistics exist because they are considered to accurately depict how much crime is actually occurring.Despite the various allegations being made. It is thought that the magnitude of crime that goes unrecorded is far greater than the crime recorded officially by the police (Mosher et al. 1947). 1967) of crime. and subsequently is not included in the official crime statistics. being based on incomplete data (Brouwer. 2011) together with Office of Police Integrity s (OPI) report into crime records and statistical reporting (Strong. Due to the magnitude of undiscovered crime. And that police statistics should be analysed with respect to . But instead stated that the Victorian Police (effectively Simon Overland) had failed to publish criminal statistics independently from political exigencies . As a result. 2002). it may be difficult to distinguish between a decline of crime due to policy or whether more crime has just gone undetected. 2002). The dark figure is primarily based upon the inability of police to observe all criminal activity. 2010) highlighted the deficiencies the Victorian Police has in producing crime statistics. And that the CBD assault statistics were distorted . The dark figure of crime is the amount of crime that goes unreported or undiscovered. 2011). This differential gap is based on various factors. The investigation also found that he ignored advice from media advisors and senior figures within the police force (Media director Ms McKechnie and Deputy Commissioner Ken Jones) that the material was politically sensitive (Baker and McKenzie.
Crime statistics have become politically more sensitive over time as governments have sort to reduce crime. An example of this was the inflation of statistics relating to knife search powers in Blacktown. 2006) These statistical judgements must be clearly separate from political bias in order for crime statistics to stay valid (Smith. there has been numerous cases (Justice Magazine. Delaying the release of crime statistics. However Chambliss (1984:176) proposes that other things being equal. Furthermore. Police departments are often evaluated primarily on the basis of the volume and trends of crime within their jurisdiction. 2006). 2006). Crime statistics have effectively become more sophisticated and extensive over time (Smith. Crime statistics are no longer simple facts. 1972: 1. the very nature of statistics means they are easy to manipulate and can be manipulated in various ways (Huff. But since police funding is almost always decided by Governments. Governments often pin their credibility to performance targets. 2006). In this case statistical data was driven up by senior officers in order to justify the effectiveness of the 1998 New South Wales Crimes . 1999. An additional limitation of official crime statistics involves their manipulation and fabrication for political purposes (Smith. New South Wales. they involve interpretation of the crime data collected and making technical judgements in order to produce reliable estimates. Consequently. (Smith. Martz. they are likely to exert influence upon a police department s operations. 1954). mean increased budgets.. it is in the interests of the police to prove an increase in crime [as] higher crime rates . Police may also be inclined to inflate crime statistics in order to justify their existence in a particular area. 2006). The police themselves also have a vested interest in the crime statistics they produce. 2006) where governments place substantial pressure on police departments to provide positive spin that supports their crime fighting initiatives. 2002).victimization surveys in order to help correct the dark figure of crime that is unrepresented in police data. a need for a specialized department or to support police policies. Police usually have exclusive control over the dissemination of crime data collected and there is often little monitoring of the accuracy of their crime rates. Smith. glossing over particular statistics or constructing misleading statistics based upon the changes of crime over time are all subtle tactics in which crime statistics can be used by Governments to advance their political agenda (Beattie 1960). Thus the independence of the police from the government is imperative for credible crime statistics (Smith. police departments anxious to make a good showing in their annual figures have the natural propensity to record and report statistics that show a good administrative record on behalf of their department (Mosher et al. since their performance and funding can often depend on them.. Hence an obvious way in which they can demonstrate their effective crime fighting abilities is to alter the numbers and nature of such crime reports. As a result. thus a reduction in crime rate allows them to advocate their crime reduction strategies.
It is widely considered that crime statistics should be extrapolated from police reports (along with victimization surveys) rather than prosecutorial. The upheaval caused by the distorted CBD crime rates raised two significant questions: 1) What was Simon Overland s relationship with the Brumby Government at that time? 2) How could crime statistics be so inaccurate? Although there was no evidence found that Simon Overland collaborated with the Brumby Government unlawfully. The historic notion in policing that favourable crime statistics make everyone happy and the persistent claims of police cooking the data has led to growing suspicion that police crime data cannot be trusted (Mosher et al. his selective release of statistics and their positive spin suggests he was politically motivated . This is supported by the literature. Since criminal statistics are derived from police reports.Amendment Act (Bishop. There are also basic methodological problems when producing crime statistics such as: estimating population figures in order to calculate crime statistics in non-census years. both across and within jurisdictions (Gottschalk 2010). judicial and correctional data. This was supported by allegations by a former Labor Party staffer that Simon Overland was pressured by the Labor government into serving up positive spin ((Crawford and Buttler. . imputation and estimation procedures. Since Overland was seen by many to be politician rather than a policeman (Hobday. It is widely considered that the political influence on crime rates is reduced when an independent body / agency is in charge of interpreting police data and releasing the official crime statistics (Kamisar. there are definite parallels between the deficiencies associated with the crime statistics published by the Victorian Police and the use of crime statistics generally worldwide . These conceptual problems all cause error when estimating crime rates and thus are problematic to the reliability and validity of crime statistics (Mosher et al 2002). 2002). what it is record as. 2011). The reason being is that police reports are considered to be more inclusive in their coverage of types of criminal offences and can include data on criminal incidents even when an offender s identity is unknown. police discretion is consequently a major source of inconsistency in official crime numbers. 2004). Based on the academic literature. 2011) the accuracy and credibility of the crime statistics was severely affected. counting and scoring decisions are in practice subject to multiple interpretations and therefore can vary due to potentially large inconsistencies. inconsistencies with the classification of crime and different conventions in situations of multiple crime incidents. Thus the reasons and motives for the police manipulation of crime statistics are wide and varied. in the sense that crime statistics disseminated by the police are vulnerable to political falsification. sampling error. Police discretion determines whether a crime is considered to have taken place. time lag associated with data collection. 1980). whether it is necessary to record it and if recorded. Despite the extensive coding and classification rules and regulations. There is also much debate among academics as to the way in which crime statistics should be created as well as the accuracy of such methodologies (Clarke and Hough.
Strong. 2011. 2010). Criminologist also believe that statistical judgements can differ and are often open to interpretation. Thus reducing the likelihood of political manipulation of crime statistics. readily available to the public for scrutiny can add to their credibility and accuracy. Thus making the data from which criminal statistics are derived.1972. . Brouwer.