The Irish Times view on crime statistics: detecting change
A health warning applies to Garda crime figures – and it’s unlikely to be lifted any time soon
Under the new system agreed by the Garda and CSO, the Garda’s computerised database Pulse will automatically show a crime as detected only if one of a number of prosecutorial junctures has been reached. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
New data published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reveals how successful or otherwise the Garda Síochána has been at detecting crimes reported in 2018. A “detection” is recorded when some form of solid action or sanction – such as a court summons, conviction, fine, caution and so on – results from the investigation of a crime.
Drug crime reported in 2018 showed an 85 per cent detection rate to date and homicides were at 75 per cent. Elsewhere, the record was not so good, sexual crimes showing an 11 per cent detection rate and burglaries a detection rate as low as 13 per cent in Dublin. One very positive development is that individual gardaí have now lost the discretion to categorise crimes as “detected”. Before now, gardaí could simply mark as “detected” any crime they were investigating. This made a mockery of the figures. Under the new system agreed by the Garda and CSO, the Pulse system will automatically show a crime as detected only if one of a number of prosecutorial junctures has been reached. A credible baseline has now been established off which the success of the Garda in solving crimes can be judged into the future.
However, the low rate of detection for sexual crimes is of real concern. Victims will only come forward when they see more crimes are being solved. It should also be noted that all of the crime data published by the CSO is done “under reservation”. That is effectively a health warning to the public that the accuracy of the figures still cannot be guaranteed. This remains in place some five years after the Garda Inspectorate first revealed crime was being under-recorded by the Garda and detection rates overestimated.
Last week, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said he believed it would take two more years before that caveat could be lifted. In truth, given the litany of crises that has emerged around recording and classification of crimes – not to mention alcohol breath tests and checkpoints – Harris will do well to have that health warning lifted before he leaves office in a little under four years. Progress is being made but there is a way to go.