Q&A: Crime rates and the underreporting of offences

What is the new Central Statistics Office report on Garda data and why does it matter?

The CSO is publishing its report on Garda crime statistics today. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

The CSO is publishing its report on Garda crime statistics today. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


So the CSO has found that crime is being under-reported. Did the Garda Inspectorate not already tell us this last year?
Today’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) review is the second of two reports which has identified issues with the force’s crime recording processes and systems. Problems with how the gardaí were recording crime were first uncovered late last year following a two-year Garda Inspectorate examination of the force’s investigation of crime.

In its report in November, the inspectorate reported that crimes were being under-recorded by about 38 per cent and that detection rates were much lower than stated by the force (in a sample of almost 2,200 crimes, the gardaí recorded a detection rate of 43 per cent but the inspectorate found that the real figure was just 26 per cent).

So what does that have to do with the CSO?
The CSO took over responsibility for the publication of crime statistics from An Garda Síochána in 2005. But as the CSO itself has noted, the crime statistics published by it “depend entirely on the Garda Síochána’s systems and procedures to record crime”. When the Garda Inspectorate report raised concerns over the integrity of the data being provided to it, the CSO delayed its publication of quarterly crime data while it examined the “statistical implications” arising.

So what happened next?
A few different wheels were set in motion. The gardaí gave the CSO access to its data sets to allow for an independent examination of the Pulse system (the database system used by the gardaí to record crime) and telephone and paper records. This allowed the CSO to examine whether all reported crimes were being recorded properly. Separately, an expert panel was set up under the remit of the Department of Justice and chaired by the CSO, to examine issues such as crime counting and detection rules. On top of this the gardaí established its own data review team and a pilot scheme was launched in February in three Garda divisions to test a new data review process.

Did we have crime statistics while all this was going on?
Two sets of quarterly crime statistics were not published as scheduled. However, alongside today’s review, the CSO has now published these reports as well as crime statistics covering the first quarter of 2015.

So we had a delay in the recording of crime statistics? Does that matter?
Quite a bit actually. Without these statistics the justice system would be in the dark when it came to deploying resources in the right areas at the right times. Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has described accurate, reliable crime data as “vital” for ensuring that the policing services offered by the Garda force are responsive to emerging crime trends. Meanwhile, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said having the right data was “critical to ensuring we can deliver an effective police service that meets the needs of the community”.

Now that the CSO has published the missing six months of crime data, is everything fixed?
Not exactly. The crime data released today comes with the following health warning: “When interpreting the recorded crime statistics, the CSO advises that the findings of the review should be taken into account”

So, are you saying nothing has changed?
No, reforms are being implemented. The Garda’s new data quality team remains in place to provide oversight of the classification and reclassification of crime and crime detections. The gardaí are also piloting a new incident recording process to ensure that all reported crime is logged in a consistent manner using a standardised method. 

The CSO will continue to work with the gardaí and will monitor data quality at regular intervals. The Pulse system has undergone some changes and Ms Fitzgerald has said she is seeking funding for an investment in the upgrade of Garda technology.