Garda urged to review crime data recording methods

Expert group raises concern over accuracy of crime statistics and calls for ongoing audit

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan: “robust data informs the operational decisions made by the Garda Síochána in terms of the development of policing strategies and targeting of resources”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan: “robust data informs the operational decisions made by the Garda Síochána in terms of the development of policing strategies and targeting of resources”. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The methods by which gardaí record crime data should be subject to an ongoing review by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to ensure confidence in the system, a report has found.

An expert group on crime statistics was established following a 2014 Garda Inspectorate report on crime investigation identifying shortfalls in how official statistics were compiled and reported in Ireland.

The working group was tasked with examining the system and bringing recommendations on key areas of concern.

The 2014 inspectorate report, the group noted on Tuesday, had “raised a number of serious concerns in relation to the recording of crime incidents and, as a consequence, to the accuracy of crime statistics derived from administrative data on Pulse”, the Garda-operated database.

In its conclusions, the working group found there had been improvements made to the Pulse system since the Garda Inspectorate’s concerns came to light but said there was a need for “even greater adherence” to procedure.

“The group recommends that data quality and the correct application of crime counting and detection rules be subject to ongoing review and audit,” it said, and that “the CSO continue its assessments of data quality in order to ensure robust crime statistics which users can have confidence in”.

Robust data

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said these insights were important given that “robust data informs the operational decisions made by the Garda Síochána in terms of the development of policing strategies and targeting of resources”.

The review examined a number of key areas, including the use of mandatory fields on Pulse, the receipt of all logged Garda data by the CSO and the development of new crime counting rules.

As part of its work, it found problems with compiling detailed crime maps based on statistical analysis given the potential for victims to be identified, particularly in rural Ireland.

In 2015, the group carried out a mapping experiment based on data from Dublin city. The crimes were geo-coded and various maps, including at street level, were produced.

However, it reported that, while a positive technical achievement, it “raised some concerns about ensuring that publicly available maps not identify individuals”.

“This was believed to be a particularly high risk in an Irish context and especially (although not exclusively) in rural areas.” It will continue to pursue mapping work with regard to these concerns, it said.

A new version of the Pulse system, 6.8, was released in November 2015, at which time a “victim assessment” screen was added for the mandatory recording of various data including motive, and whether this was related to domestic violence, or specific types of discrimination including age, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability and religion. Pulse 7.3 is currently under development and will have a primary focus on data quality.

The CSO has also been given access to other “non-crime” data (such as lost property and domestic disputes) and the group recommended gardaí alert it to future changes on data-recording approaches in a “timely manner”.

As regards the method in which crimes are counted by gardaí, the group found the existing approach was fit for purpose although there is a “clear need” for a detailed document outlining exactly how this is done for public consumption.

The same recommendation was made regarding how crime “detections”, or the solving of crimes, was recorded.