Why are Ireland’s crime statistics in disarray?

CSO report finds Garda under-reporting crime and overstating detection rates


This week, after a six-month delay, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published crime statistics for the last half of 2014 (as well as the scheduled data for the first quarter of this year).

Unusually, the story of the day wasn’t about the recorded increase in assaults, burglaries and sex offences, but about the data itself when the CSO became the second body to say the Garda is under-reporting crime.

Based on samples of crimes recorded in 2011, it estimated the number of assaults might have been 38 per cent higher than that recorded by gardaí. Fraud offences may have been under-reported by a quarter and burglaries by nearly a fifth.

In fact, in 12 of the 14 crime categories (with homicides and kidnapping and related offences being the exceptions), the CSO determined the force was under-reporting crime by an average of 18 per cent.

Elsewhere, it found that, while certain crimes were recorded properly initially, they were later reclassified to less serious offences, with no apparent justification.

It also found a number of cases where offences recorded as non-crimes should actually have been classified in crime categories. In a sample of 20 domestic dispute cases, it found 13 should have been classified as assaults and one as assault causing harm.

This is the second report within a year to have found the force under-reporting and overstating detection rates.

Shortfall of 38%

Responding to the CSO report, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said other police forces face issues in recording crime data accurately but she acknowledged this “cannot be used as an excuse”.

Ms O’Sullivan said some measures were already in train while others would be implemented later this year.

These include a new data quality team put in place by the force to oversee crime classification/reclassification; a new incident-recording process and changes to the Pulse database used by the force to record crime.

The CSO will also continue to monitor data quality at regular intervals.

Although the gardaí are taking steps to get their house in order, it will take a while for these changes to take effect – meaning all crime statistics published in the next number of months will be accompanied by a health warning.