Crime statistics: the numbers don’t add up

As homicides have been examined more closely, more problems have been found

For nine months no new crime data was available because the CSO was unwilling to publish crime statistics when so many unanswered questions remained about the raw data supplied to it by the Garda Síochána for collating and publication. Photograph: Frank Miller

For nine months no new crime data was available because the CSO was unwilling to publish crime statistics when so many unanswered questions remained about the raw data supplied to it by the Garda Síochána for collating and publication. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The decision by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) to recommence publishing crime statistics has been welcomed by Government and Garda headquarters.

For the past nine months no new crime data has been available. The CSO was unwilling to publish any further crime numbers when so many unanswered questions remained about the raw crime data supplied to it by the Garda. Last month, two Garda civilian data-analyst whistleblowers appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice. They detailed a long-running dispute within the Garda over homicides.

They explained they had clashed with senior Garda management during “15 months of torment” as they tried to right the way homicides were being classified. Their concerns were first revealed, by The Irish Times, in February and have now resulted in a review of all homicides since 2003. That review process is expected to take at least six months and may stretch into next year. The CSO has now decided to publish crime data again, but is doing so “under reservation”.

Garda headquarters has conceded some homicides were mistakenly recorded as less serious offences, such as non-fatal assaults. It also accepts cases of dangerous driving causing death were at times classified as speeding or drink driving when they should have been recorded as homicides. But it has insisted every case classified incorrectly was still afforded a full homicide investigation.

The Policing Authority wants more information before it can accept those assurances. Worryingly, as homicides have been examined more closely, more problems have been found. In the initial review of 41 domestic deaths flagged by the civilian analysts as being in need of further examination, Garda officers found no need to upgrade any of them to homicide. But when the analysts protested and refused to sign off on the Garda’s findings, 12 of the cases were eventually upgraded to homicide. Minor changes also needed to be made to the classification of another 16 of the cases. In recent months, the Garda has also said many road deaths since 2003 should have been classified as homicides but were not.

All of the cases were incidents of dangerous driving causing death. In error, they had been initially classified as less serious, non-fatal, motoring offences. Last September the Garda said there had been 89 such cases since 2003. But last week the CSO said it had identified 196 such cases during the same period. That such discrepancies remain after so much scrutiny is of deep concern.

The review of all homicide cases since 2003 needs to be expeditious. It is imperative it arrives at definitive findings on the number of homicide misclassifications. And there must also be complete disclosure around killings, if any, that were not investigated properly because they had been recorded in error as a less serious crime.

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