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Mythbusting: Crime is down, not up

Written By: - Date published: 10:15 am, May 1st, 2008 - 63 comments
Categories: crime - Tags: , , ,

It’s hard to know why people keep interviewing Garth McVicar from Sensible Sentencing. The organisation has no credibility, no research every statement on policy is really just ‘Garth guesses X’. And of course, they made those disgusting comments around the death of Pihema Cameron.

Nevertheless, he was on National Radio this morning regarding new stats showing the prison population has doubled since the 1980s. What did he attribute the growth in prison numbers to? ‘Our growing crime rate’.  That would be this growing crime rate, Garth?


The prison muster is up due to a combination of larger population, longer sentences, and better crime fighting. Sensible Sentencing denies that and says it’s due to higher crime even though crime is down. 

McVicar’s answer to his fictional problem is, of course, more Police State and more dead taggers.

63 comments on “Mythbusting: Crime is down, not up”

  1. I heard McVicar on RNZ this morning and sent them an angry email. Having this creep front crime stories is like going to the National Front for comment on treaty claims.

  2. Daveo 2

    I expect to hear McVicar’s brand of ignorance from the likes of Newstalk ZB but RNZ should know much better than this.

  3. Anyone who lives in Christchurch knows that the youth crime problem is getting out of hand.

    These young people aren’t part of the stats, because there crimes are deemed to be to petty, but go into the city at night, and odds are that you will get hit by a bottle some kid has thrown out of his car.

    You might wake up to see that your fence has been spray painted, and I don’t think politicians understand how frustrating it is, when after you have been a victim of a crime, to hear someone on the nightly news say “Well its art, its their culture”

    Our pathetic former Mayor Garry Moore once said of boyracers “They bring colour to the city”

    I’m sorry you can give me all the stats and hard data you like, just go into Christchurch at night and see how these youths has destroyed the central city atmosphere.

    Of course if the Police took a hard line, Labour and the Greens would complain about police brutality. What they have failed to understand is that the public has had a gutsfull and want something done about it.

  4. r0b 4

    Of course if the Police took a hard line, Labour and the Greens would complain about police brutality.

    I don’t recall Labour complaining about police brutality re the recent “anti-terrorist raids” in the Ureweras. But (like the stats and hard data) don’t let the facts get in the way of good rant.

  5. Tane 5

    I’m sorry you can give me all the stats and hard data you like, just go into Christchurch at night and see how these youths has destroyed the central city atmosphere.

    Hilarious, and typical from many of the online right – “screw your hard data and stats, I’ve got a bunch of unverifiable anecdotes”

  6. Stephen 6

    I’m sure this has been dealt with before, but does ‘recorded crime’ differ from convictions? i.e. I accuse someone of a crime (thus reporting it) but cannot prove it.

  7. MikeE 7

    Can you give some stats with say victimless crimes (i.e. drug use, speeding, etc) removed?

    I.e. so that its only *real* crime, rather than crime invented by busy body politicians?

  8. Matthew Pilott 8

    mikeE – so the billion dollar P industry is victimless (I’ve never heard of a crime being committed to fund a drug habit for example, and junkies are highly productive members of society who never do bad things under the influence), as is speeding (I nominate you to tell that to the people who die in crashes due to other people speeding)?

    That reminds me of Nelson Muntz – “Shoplifting is a victimless crime – just like punching someone in a dark room“.

  9. Tane:

    Walk through central Christchurch at night and you will know what I mean.

    These kids aren’t getting arrested, so they are not part of the stats. The city is terrible at night, boyracers are consistently trying to bottle other cars, young people are vandalizing property outside the cafes and bars, private property is being spray pained, and these young people are threating law abiding citizens.

    Its just disgusting to wake up to see some jackass has spray painted your fence , smashed a few bottles on your driveway, and ripped out your letter box, and that is just in a residential area.

    Christchurch city is awful at night, you just have to walk down any street and you will have some young retard, yelling abuse at you,smashing up busstops, grabbing anything that isn’t tied down and throwing it at cars on the roads, just basically acting like animals, its repugant behaviour.

    The public is sick of it, and the public want stronger action.

    So much for going out for a nice meal in central christchurch these days. The city is shocking at night you cannot deny that.

  10. Stephen 10

    Isn’t speed the direct cause of a lot of crashes? I’m very happy with that being a crime, as the chance of me becoming a mangled victim increases when someone chooses to speed.

  11. Tane 11

    Brett, to be fair I don’t go to Christchurch much, but I don’t think you can base your policy decisions on anecdote.

  12. I live in Christchurch and youth crime is running rampant and police seem powerless to stop it. I am currently under Victim Support after a vicious assault at my front door. Things have gone crazy in this city.

  13. r0b 13

    Walk through central Christchurch at night and you will know what I mean.

    I used to do this all the time in the 80’s, I do it occasionally now. It was unpleasant then, it’s unpleasant now. But I don’t think it’s changed much.

  14. Tane:

    Im not basing anything on an anecdote, our city is not safe at night, and its getting worse and worse, too much petty crime has now become acceptable in this town, I’m not sure what its like in other parts of the country, but my city at night is terrible.

  15. ” But I don’t think it’s changed much.”

    rob, it is more violent now. Try it and you’ll get my drift. Don’t go alone.

  16. r0b 16

    rob, it is more violent now. Try it and you’ll get my drift. Don’t go alone.

    I remember an incident from the 80’s (70’s ?) where someone was knifed in The Square for a leather jacket. There has always been violence there. I do think it’s an interesting question – why Chch – but I don’t know that it’s changed so much over time.

  17. I’ve never had any trouble in Christchurch and I can tell you I’ve noticed Wellington CBD feels a lot safer at night now than it did ten years ago – as does Auckland.

  18. Felix 18

    Brett, everything you’ve said is anecdotal.

  19. randal 19

    memo to myself…do not go downtown for any greasy chips or the possibilty of a louche encounter after 6.30pm

  20. I’m getting p****d off with rightwingers carrying on about high crime rates, when overall they have been coming down over the past decade. How about some credit for THAT?

    And, while the causes of crime are complex, you can’t tell me that slashing benefits and the pay of the low paid in the early 1990s did anything but worsen problems in some areas. Who was responsible for THAT?

    So now we’re supposed to be concerned only with so-called “real crime” are we? Well, in case you haven’t noticed, there have been big campaigns to do something about domestic violence and part of that has been encouraging the victims to come forward. I’m bloddy proud that at last there is real effort being put into doing something in this area, and sorry it didn’t happen sooner (under National).

    But it does mean that rates of reported “violent” crime have increased by a little over the past ten years or so. The surprise is that they haven’t increased more because of the higher rates of reporting of domestic violence.

    (Part of the problem with these data is that far from all crime is reported.)

    Certainly, the very slight increase in reported violent doesn’t equate in the real world to a massive upsurge in crime. My message to rightwingers–especially McVicar–is STFU until you have something constructive or sensible to say.

  21. higherstandard 21

    Did you miss Annette King’s comments in the herald this morning ?

  22. higherstandard, It’s not clear to whom your question is directed, but if it’s me, no, I did not miss them.

    I thought Annette King’s comments about not getting on top of the p problem and looking for new solutions were honest, if not brave, and perhaps an invitation for some non-partisan thinking.

    Your question simply illustrates my point about the right not being able to engage with these issues in s constructive or sensible way. So, STFU.

  23. Phil 23

    “But it does mean that rates of reported “violent’ crime have increased ”

    Actually, you can’t prove that – equally, I can’t prove the rate of reporting has gone down or stayed the same – because we simply don’t know what the reporting rate is (or previously was).

    You’re making the same anecdotal inference as ‘rightwingers’

  24. Pascal's bookie 24

    HS,
    When you very first started posting here you acted like an idiot, even your screen name is a giveaway that you weren’t really interested in anything other than trolling.

    Then for a while you were interesting and engaging, but lately you’ve been slipping back into idiot mode.

    Just saying.

  25. higherstandard 25

    JP

    No I won’t as you say STFU.

    I also thought good on Annette King for fronting but to continually repeat the mantra on this site that the crime rate is coming down while not acknowledging that we have serious issues that are yet to be tackled with methamphetamine, gangs and youth violence says to me that your comments about the right not being able to engage on the issues in a sensible way are mirrored by the posters on the left also.

  26. higherstandard 26

    PB

    Yes I’ve also noticed that there is less tolerance on this site for anybody who has views in conflict with the political left.

    And your screen name suggests you are interested in …. betting for a lady called Pascal >>>

    Just saying

    [lprent: In terms of moderation? Not really. I don’t really care who I moderate (and neither do the other moderators). It is the behaviour that concerns us. That mainly comes down to starting pointless flamewars and what we consider are comments or attacks on the site and its posters.

    I’d point out that most of the moderation is to do with attacks on the site and the posters. For some reason the lefties don’t have a problem with the sites existence, some on the right appear to have more of an issue with it. I have no idea where you stand (centre-right would be my guess), but I can’t recall ever having to moderate you.]

  27. Ben R 27

    In terms of Christchurch, I’ve never been out there but have heard it’s particularly unsafe at night from friends who studied there. Times Square in New York used to be extremely dangerous, but increased policing has made it a relatively safe place.

    Economist Steven Levitt (you might have seen his book Freakanomics) identified the following four factors which explain the drop in US crime through the 90’s:

    “increased incarceration, more police, the decline of
    crack and legalized abortion.”

    And 6 that did not play an important role:

    “Other factors often cited as important factors driving
    the decline do not appear to have played an important role: the strong economy,changing demographics, innovative policing strategies, gun laws and increased use
    of capital punishment.”

    http://pricetheory.uchicago.edu/levitt/Papers/LevittUnderstandingWhyCrime2004.pdf

  28. mike 28

    “Hilarious, and typical from many of the online right – “screw your hard data and stats, I’ve got a bunch of unverifiable anecdotes’

    Tane: hard data and stats can be screwed to reflect any arguement. If you think NZ is getting safer you must live in gated community.

  29. Pascal's bookie 29

    No one is denying that those problems exist HS, they are only denying that the record is as bad as the National party says it is. Or is it out of bounds to call out the national party for dishonesty without addressing everything else under the sun at the same time?

    You allude to the fact that no one denies those issues here when you say “not acknowledging”. But that is fundamentaly different from what the right does. The right not only doesn’t acknowledge’ Labours record, they lie about it.

    That’s the point.

  30. Pascal's bookie 30

    HS 2.06 QED

  31. randal 31

    well it is in the nats interest to have a confused drugged up electorate spaced out on the delusion that they have infinite energy and unlimited choices…who are the entrepreneurs and where do they get their protection from? STOP FRIGGING AROUND WITH THE FIGURES AND GET TO THE POINT!

  32. mike 32

    “delusion that they have infinite energy and unlimited choices”

    Yes Randal – keep the population dumbed down with no hope of a better life theres a good socialist.

  33. roger nome 33

    D4J:

    “I live in Christchurch and youth crime is running rampant and police seem powerless to stop it. I am currently under Victim Support after a vicious assault at my front door. Things have gone crazy in this city.”

    I think it’s more because Christchurch is mental than anything else (apparently it has a bizarrely high incidence of mental-illness). Seriously, the number of friends I’ve had who have moved from Chch to Dunedin and have told me that it’s a much safer-feeling city. But, really, I don’t true that is. That’s the problem with “I reckon” anecdotes. They don’t actually mean a lot in a debate when put against hard data.

  34. roger nome 34

    Oh god, I have to start editing my comments.

  35. mike: “hard data and stats can be screwed to reflect any argument.” (spelling corrected)

    Why is this so often the last refuge of the right when they are caught telling porkies?

    Mike, statistics can be manipulated, but if you were to learn a little about statistical analysis, you would find that most of the manipulation can be readily detected. The figures used here come from sources like the Ministry of Justice and Department of Statistics and can therefore be considered unbiased politically, if subject to the flaws that any official data exhibit.

    But really, are the impressions about, say, the safety of central Chch after dark more valid? I think that central Auckland after dark is fairly safe, but would not suggest any garden city dwellers move here on that basis. They’d be better to look at the hard data first.

  36. j 36

    Let’s not forget that the vast majority of crime are property related offences. I think the amount of violent crime is below 5% (don’t quote me on this).

    The only reason why we think there is more violent crime is because the media give it an inordinate amount of coverage. Can’t blame them though as given the sensationalist and purile nature of our tastes there is a ready market. The only time property offences make it to the front page is when someone like cloe of wainuiamata gets caught.

  37. r0b 37

    PB … And your screen name suggests you are interested in . betting for a lady called Pascal

    HS – you’ve never heard of Pascal’s wager? In which context I think Pascal’s bookie is a most excellent name.

  38. molly 38

    the graph above is clearly spin released straight from the extensively resourced labour party spin centre
    you can’t talk generally about crime being up or down – and reported crime is quite different as well all know than actual crime
    total numbers of reported crime events may be down but the key figures are things like ‘violent crime’ and that was seriously up according to the offical statistics released by the police recently
    not only was it up, but it was up by 6,000.

    in the last twelve months SIX THOUSAND MORE VIOLENT CRIMES were perpetrated on kiwis.

    and VIOLENT CRIME category only includes things like aggravated robbery where a gun or weapon is used, assaults where weapons are used, rape, kidnapping, attempted murder and murder itself

    it doesn’t include things like vandalism of letter boxes, burglary, stealing cars, shop lifting and other things that many kiwis don’t even bother reporting anymore viz a viz why total crime may appear to be down

    only someone using carefully selected statistics with a large agenda and little knowledge would suggest crime was down!

  39. When you’re speaking of the high rate of mental illness in Christchurch roger nome, are you talking about the three men that have committed suicide in Hillmorton hospital’s forensic unit this year?

  40. r0b 40

    molly the graph above is clearly spin released straight from the extensively resourced labour party spin centre

    Gosh darn molly, you caught us. Uh huh. Obviously we should believe your agenda laden anecdotes instead. Thanks for clearing that up.

    [lprent: Hey – don’t take the blame for the poster (though I must say it makes a refreshing change).
    Just for clarification, rOb isn’t a poster or moderator. He just logs in to become a grey eminence]

  41. Matthew Pilott 41

    Molly

    in the last twelve months SIX THOUSAND MORE VIOLENT CRIMES were perpetrated on kiwis.

    As I understood it, this was largely attributed to an increase in reporting of domestic violence.

    Have you got a study or reference to show that reporting of crime has decreased? Or is it because your mum’s best friend’s son’s cousin’s car got broken into, and they didn’t even bother calling the cops, because they were uninsured?

  42. Matthew Pilott 42

    FYI Molly, here’s an example of providing something to back up an assertion – the one I made regarding the cause of the increase in violent crime:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=30&objectid=10501512

  43. higherstandard 43

    r0b

    While I get PBs point I can’t see the point of taking bets on the existence of god.

  44. roger nome 44

    “in the last twelve months SIX THOUSAND MORE VIOLENT CRIMES were perpetrated on kiwis.”

    Yes, I think I know where you got that stat from Molly.

    http://kiwiblogblog.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/more-creative-spin-read-fibs-from-key/

  45. Tane 45

    Molly, the stats are available at http://www.police.govt.nz – the graph was mine.

    If you want to do a graph on vandalism to letterboxes feel free to send it through for consideration.

  46. I dont think people should make light of petty crime, and I think vandalism of people’s property isn’t a petty crime anyway.

  47. randal 47

    rave on, rave on, rave on…when is one of you bright sparks going to offer a per capita comparison with a similar country?

  48. milo 48

    D4J: Sorry to hear about the assault. Hope you’re okay.

    Hasn’t Christchurch had a long-standing skinhead problem? Could that be something to do with it? Anyway, it is quite possible for Christchurch to be getting worse, but the overall trend to be getting better. No contradiction there.

    But let me ask a difficult question: Has crime done down because the prison population has gone up. That is, if you are inside, it becomes much harder to offend … I’d be interested in what people think.

  49. Pascal's bookie 49

    While I get PBs point I can’t see the point of taking bets on the existence of god.

    Neither can I HS. Though I see why you might think that I do.

    My screen name is a little more subtle than just saying that I’d bet against Pascal.

    It comes from the first essay I wrote for a 100 level philosophy paper many many moons ago. It stuck in my memory because the lecturer was of the type that didn’t set word limits, which caused poor undergraduates no end of worry and concern about what was expected of them. He made things worse by telling the first year students that he had only ever given one ‘A plus’ for a 100 level essay, and that the essay in question was only 200 words in length.

    My essay was on Pascal’s wager, and rather than just regurgitating the most obvious problems with it, I asked the question of who exactly Pascal was wagering against. ‘Who is his bookie’ in other words. The answer I came up with as a callow youth was that he was betting against his own better judgement. He obviously had serious doubts about the existence of God, and couldn’t refute those doubts to his own satisfaction. So he makes his little bet against those doubts.

    “Pascal’s bookie” is thus more of a joke against Pascal’s intellectual honesty or courage than against the existence of God. JFTR at the time I was a very devout Roman Catholic.

    (I realise that the wager itself is but a conclusion to a much more well thought out argument that rests on a broader attack against reason itself, (and so I’m being a little unfair against the poor dead mathematician), but this was only a 100 level paper so we hadn’t got that far yet.)

  50. Phil 50

    What grade did you get ?!?!

  51. r0b 51

    But let me ask a difficult question: Has crime done down because the prison population has gone up. That is, if you are inside, it becomes much harder to offend I’d be interested in what people think.

    Interesting question Milo. I think you could find cases and examples to support wither side of the argument. But in the end I’m going to say no.

    If there is an effect, it is often small, eg 314% increase in prison population correlating with a 13% drop in serious violent crime:
    http://www.uplink.com.au/lawlibrary/Documents/Docs/Doc109.html
    Other summaries see no correlation:
    http://www.njournalg.com/prisonpopulation.htm

    Looking at the big picture, within America “In recent decades the U.S. has experienced a surge in its prison population, quadrupling since 1980”:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisons_in_the_United_States
    Did crime fall in proportion? Doesn’t look like it. Overall crime rates have shown some variation, there was a big fall in violent crime after 1993 – see the graph and speculation as to why here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_the_United_States
    But nothing links these trends to the quadrupling of prison population.

    Internationally, America has by far the highest per capita rate of incarceration, but not the lowest crime rate. So after a quick look, my answer to your question is no.

    (Bookie – nice to get that back story! I’m interested in the way people chose their screen names.)

  52. Milo ; potential prison numbers far exceed prison capabilities to detain. Remand prisoner numbers are overflowing in some regions. In an effort to ease the burden (fully stretched system) – the system is gearing up for sentence of electronic monitoring by offenders supervised by Probation Service. Prisoners, whether inside or out conduct criminal activities on cellphones etc it’s caused taking care of business, and the soft message is no deterrent to recidivist offenders. We are giving the smart crimes the upper hand and it’s no wonder repeat offender rates are the fishy order of the day.

  53. Pascal's bookie 53

    The grade is not important Phil, what matters is that we all try. (wink)

    r0b, Screen names are strange things aren’t they? I only noticed that you use a zero when you pointed it out the other day.

    night all.

  54. r0b 54

    r0b, Screen names are strange things aren’t they?

    I’m sure there’s a thesis in it somewhere for some bright young spark!

  55. milo 55

    rOb, d4j, Interesting. Although coming from opposite ends, I think you replies suggest the same thing: there is an effect, but it is small, raising questions about whether it is a cost-effective (or morally effective) strategy.

    Thanks. Food for thought.

  56. milo in any sane society the public should expect zero tolerance on criminality, however the dysfunctional judicial system has its head in the clouds and both National and Labour put justice well done DOWN the list of priorities. Can’t upset the judges. Food for thought.

    [lprent: fixed]

  57. well DOWN the list of priorities, sorry thought I was at kiwiblog and had the edit option. Silly me smack, smack.

    [lprent: 🙂 I’m thinking about it. But I’m only allowed a certain number of updates per week. Besides I have it. I’m not sure if anyone else needs it ?? ]

  58. roger nome 58

    “milo in any sane society the public should expect zero tolerance on criminality,”

    D4J – $100,000 per prisoner per year. Only the worst of brutes should be being locked up. It’s just too expensive. As it is, Mr Hippy with a ounce of weed and a bong can end up costing us tens of thousands of dollars to unjustly punish.

  59. roger nome 59

    On a slight tangent, I was just at a public debate tonight about Marajuana (I know, been there, done that) – with Jim Anderton and Nandor Tanczos. Anderton said that he wants to ban booze and tobacco! (only he knows of course that it’s not politically feasible). I mean, I thought the prohibition debate was done in the 1940s, but apparently not for Jim.

  60. higherstandard 60

    In Jim’s defence, as I’m sure you know, he’s probably making the point that the degree of harm and cost to society done by alcohol and tobacco is in the billions of dollars per year.

    A start might be raising the drinking age back up and lowering the driving limit to zero.

  61. randal 61

    if the whole country is as nutty as you all think then no wonder every body is going to orstralia

  62. MikeE 62

    Re: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/?p=1823#comment-32334

    There is no victim in manufacturing, selling or consuming P providing it is done consensually. The only reason crimes are commited to fund drug habits is that drug prices are artificially inflated due to criminality.

    In that case the true crime (in the ethical sense) isn’t the consumption of drugs, but the theft itself. Blaming the drug only removes the responsibility from the individual.

    Don’t take this as me saying P is a good thing, I think its terrible and have personally seen peoples lives ruined by it. But mark my words, more peoples lives are ruined from drugs being illegal, (and the associated criminal penalties) I’d suggest than by the drugs themselves.

    Speeding is also a victimless crime. Crashing your car into someone on the other hand isn’t.

    Same with baseball bat ownership, no victims there, but if you decide to hit someone around the head, you aren’t committing the crime of baseball bat possession, its assault.

    Its far easier to blame an inanimate object that the person, but its the person, not the drug that committs the offense.

    I know plenty of otherwise law abiding citizens that have consumed their fair share of class A, B and C drugs, none of which have stolen, none of which have assaulted, and most of which have had a good time. Yes that even includes a very small minority who have consumed P. Some of which are in high ranking positions (one being an economist).

    This is not an endorsement on the horrible substance, merely stating a fact that there is no victim in P, providing it is consensually consumed (for instance, asshole dealers cutting P into E pills there is a victim, not of the drug, but of fraud) but adults.

    The war on drugs is lost, but then again we never stood the chance of winning it.

  63. I don’t agree with you about speeding Mike but I certainly do about drugs. I also doubt P would have attained the reach it has if a clean tested and legal alternative (such as legal and regulated E) had been easily available at a low cost.

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