What the national crime stats don’t tell us

StatsCanThey come with more caveats than an over-the-counter libido booster, but Canada’s national crime statistics will be delivered Wednesday, July 22. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, a branch of Statistics Canada, will reveal its yearly compilation of data, part of the Juristat, from which much will be inferred that should not or can not. Much will be written that misleads, misinterprets and miscalculates what the numbers tell us. There’s much more that these frail figures do not tell us than what they reveal.

For starters, the statistics reflect only crimes reported to police and we know from another major survey done by Statistics Canada every five years that many crimes go unreported. StatsCan estimates that nearly nine out of every 10 sex assaults is never reported to police, seven out of every 10 “violent victimizations” is not reported and seven of every 10 personal property thefts isn’t reported. It’s likely that most crime that occurs in Canada each year is not reported to police. Sometimes, a police agency will acknowledge publicly that it really has no idea how much crime is happening in the community

The Juristat survey does not, in fact, tell us exactly how many crimes are known to police, because of the counting method used by StatsCan. It employs a “most serious” offence rule. In a single event that involves several crimes against one victim, only the most serious crime is counted. StatsCan has revised this process to allow the counting of up to four crimes per incident, although they’re recorded in an additional crime survey,

The Juristat survey does not tell us how effective our police departments are, despite what some police and civic leaders insist each year when the crime stats are released. How could police brass and politicians claim that the yearly variance (crime is up, or down) means something, if we don’t really know how many crimes occur? We don’t know what effect police activities are having on crime, since most crime isn’t reflected in the Juristat.

The crime stats report does not tell us how “severe” crime is in each community, despite the introduction in 2009 of a “crime severity index,” in addition to the long-reported crime rates (the number of crimes factored by population). As I’ve explained before, the crime severity index is built on the same wobbly foundation; it is based only on crimes reported to police.




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