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Australia: A high crime country?

The OECD Factbook compares crime rates across OECD countries. They use measures of crime victimisation from household surveys in 17 countries not official records on crime. The latter involve differences in policy toward registering ‘trivial crime’ between judicial systems and differences in willingness-to-report crimes. The OECD report seems to be based on a UN study – the International Crime Victims Survey – carried out in 2000.

This cross-country study finds Australia to be a high crime country but conclusions are based on data for 2000 when crime rates peaked in Australia. Since that time – partly due to the heroin drought in 2001 – crime rates have fallen strongly. Other indicators too – such as the relatively low homicide rate in Australia suggest that Australia cannot be simply categorised as a ‘high crime country’.

Main OECD results

Australia, England and Wales and the Netherlands had the highest proportion (over 25%) of respondents reporting themselves as having been crime victims in 2000. Rates for Japan, Northern Ireland and Portugal barely exceeded 15%.

High rates of people reporting themselves as victims largely reflect high rates of vehicle-related crimes – particularly vandalism. Thefts from cars are a common source of crime also.

People are particularly fearful of contact crime (robbery, assault and sexual assault). Such crimes are least common in Japan and Portugal. Over 6% of the population experience assaults and threats in Australia and the Great Britain. Australia has one of the highest rates of contact crimes. The incidence of specifically sexual incidents is highest in Australia, Austria and the Netherlands.

Australia also had the second highest proportion of burglaries, and high rates of robberies, car thefts and thefts from cars. The US, which recorded a fall in victimisation rates, was mid-range.

Commentary

In the Herald Sun, NSW Police Minister Carl Scully labelled the report irrelevant and outdated. He noted: ‘ When I think of the Los Angeles Police Department with 500 murders (a year) and we have 70 and I think of Chicago police with 550 murders a year….I start to raise my eyebrows about how accurate that report is’. ‘And I see it’s in the year 2000. It is completely and utterly out of date and irrelevant’.

Don Weatherburn, the Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, also rejects the OECD findings here.

He claimed the report out-of-date and misleading.’Property and violent predatory crime in Australia reached a peak in 2000, due to an epidemic of heroin use that began in the mid-1990s. Since that time, heroin use and heroin-related crime in Australia have fallen sharply. ABS figures show that between 2000 and 2004, the recorded rate of homicide fell 25%, the recorded rate of robbery fell 33%, the recorded rate of burglary fell 33%, the recorded rate of motor vehicle theft fell 40% and the recorded rate of general theft offences fell 23%.”

According to Weatherburn, at present there is no way of knowing how Australia compares with other countries in terms of most categories of crime because the results of the most recent international crime survey have not yet been publicly released. “If the OECD wants to make a practice of comparing crime rates across countries, it should do so on the basis of reliable and up-to-date information. Basing claims about crime in Australia in 2006 on information gathered in 2000 unfairly tarnishes Australia’s reputation.”

Conclusion

I agree. The OECD report does not demonstrate that Australia is a high crime country.

5 comments to Australia: A high crime country?

  • rabee

    My partner tells me that when she first studied medicine there was a strong and emerging campaign to encourage victims of sexual assaults to report the crime (and to press charges). This was part of medical education and has by now become the dominant culture in medicine. I suspect that some of the figures reflect this culture.

    I suspect that in a survey, Australians are simply more likely to report that they are victims of say sexual assaults than others in places. A quick pubmed search will show the difference between the magnitude of data we have on Australian victims of sexual assaults and those in Japan.

  • hc

    I agree and said so in the earlier post where decreasing crime rates were generally observed in Australia but where recorded sex crimes had been rising. It is more socially-acceptible in Australia for victims to report and presumably less so in countries like Japan.

    Indeed, a rape victim in this week’s Age newspaper was happy to confront her attackers after a court hearing and to be put on the record (with name and photo) for what she thought of him.

  • conrad

    I hate to disagree with you again, since although crime has decreased since 2000, it is still going to be high by OECD standards (especially given that other countries have also generally decreased). Maybe the OECD report doesn’t confirm that, but the governments own figures do, which can be found here with some nice graphs :

    http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/facts/2005/

    Also, I don’t think pointing to LA, one of the homocide capitals of the USA, is great evidence. What about every other country on Earth, like NZ, the UK, Germany etc. (homocide is also only a tiny part of crime — and in any case, Sydney is going to be up there on that statistic this year). In addition, it is generally pretty easy to find crime rates of other countries, so I don’t agree with the statement either.

    I also very much doubt this has to do with racial heterogenaity of Australia, since there are both relatively homogenous countries (Northern European countries, rich Asian countries) and relatively non-homogenous ones in the survey (e.g., the USA) with lower crime rates.

    There are also huge differences within country. The highest crime rates in Canada, for instance, are in the extremely homogenous white English speaking area around Calgary. The safest places are around the homogenous white French speaking places in Quebec. Montreal, a rather non-homgenous place is also fairly low-crime.

  • hc

    Conrad, Are the cross-country figures in the AIC report or are you still referring to the CECD report? The latter figures seem to me too dated to be useful.

  • conrad

    No, the cross-country figures are in the OECD report. I’m not sure if there is a summary anywhere that I would trust, as most journalists don’t seem to be able to transcribe well (I’m also not a crime expert — In this case, I’m mainly interested in people’s misperceptions of probabilities, and it is a good area for that). However, even if you consider crime stable in other countries (which wasn’t true) even with the reduction Australia remains high.

    A summary of Canada is here, where you can see what speaking French does to your crime rate :

    http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/040728/d040728a.htm

    A report about Denmark which gives the total number is here :

    http://www.copcap.com/composite-9393.htm

    If you want a laugh, you can see what HK people worry about here :

    http://www.news.gov.hk/en/category/lawandorder/050226/html/050226en08005.htm

    and multiply that number by 12 to get something close the yearly figure.

    There is lots of information about the US here (although I haven’t looked through it) :

    http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm