Trust NZ Police crime stats? Sure can’t…

The Herald on Sunday has revealed this morning that between 2009 and 2012, 700 instances of burglary offending in Counties Manukau were incorrectly “recoded”, recorded instead as more minor crimes, such as theft or wilful damage, or as “incidents”, which aren’t counted in the crime statistics at all.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has completed a review into the recording of burglary offending in Counties Manukau, and has concluded that burglaries were recoded at a rate of 15% to 30% between 2009 and 2012 in Counties Manukau south, in comparison to a rate of about 5% in other areas.

Anne Tolley says there was no pressure from the Government to fudge the statistics. I’d note that pressure does not have to be overt for it to still occur.

However, the problem does not appear to have been in relation to even the whole of Counties Manukau district; instead it was confined to Counties Manukau south. And the Herald article points plainly to why the recoding likely occurred and where a large degree of the pressure likely came from.

Counties Manukau and Gisborne are the country’s burglary capitals, and in February 2010 Counties Manukau south received a new area commander, Gary Hill, who declared that his key priority was cutting burglary statistics. When the recoding was discovered, five police staff were sanctioned, including area commander Hill. It doesn’t take a genius to presume that an ambitious new area commander might well have shoulder-tapped a few loyal staff and given a wink and a nudge to the effect that downplaying of burglar reporting would be smiled upon.

Police deny that it was systematic. Although five staff were sanctioned, two internal police inquiries “found staff had simply failed to follow national guidelines for burglary coding”.

Whether it was systematic or not, is a little beside the point. As Labour’s police spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, points out in the Herald article:

[Ms] Ardern said it was an “incredibly damning” insight into how the crime statistics could be altered to match a certain agenda. “Political targets skew behaviour. In this case, the integrity of the crime statistics in that area have been seriously undermined.

You have to ask, does recoding or other statistical minimisation occur in other areas, such as domestic violence reporting? When police attend a domestic violence callout, is there pressure to hand out a basic warning or issue a Police Safety Order, rather than make an arrest and lay a criminal charge? Sometimes use of warnings or PSOs is good policing – intervention before a domestic situation escalates to the level of criminality; however, over-use of such tools can result in the minimisation of domestic violence in crime reporting.

The result of the fiddling of the burglary stats by certain Counties Manukau south staff means that a more cynical look is needed when politically hot types of crime suffer sudden falls. Those five police staff members have done police no favours.

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