Thursday, April 28, 2005



Things aren't what they used to be...

With law and order a top issue in the British election, The Law West of Ealing Broadway's anonymous magistrate takes the time to remind us of why crime figures from the 60's aren't neccessarily comparable to those from today. There's been a massive amount of social change, which has affected both the nature of, opportunities for, and reporting of offending. And while the post talks about Britain, much of it is applicable here. In particular, massive indifference to recreational drug use (really, does anyone under 40 give a rat's arse what people stick in their own bodies nowdays?), a massive decline in tolerance for domestic violence (or violence of any sort), increase in car ownership and stealable property generally (cellphones, anyone?), and the increased popularity of home and contents insurance. Something to remember next time any politician starts harping on about crime and how things were so much better in the past...

7 comments:

The NZ official year book has an interesting graph (or perhaps just my interpretation of it):
The police per population stats: From a steady rate of 1200-1300 population per police officer through the last century until the late 50s when it started dropping rapidly so that by 1997 it was only 1:580. And yet the imprisonment rate goes up from the late 50s from 5 per 10,000 pop. to 13:10,000 in 1997. I suggest that it is in fact that there are more cops around means there are more criminals. I think they may be creating their own demand. The police figures are always ahead of the crime figure, not the other way around as you would have perhaps assumed.

Posted by t selwyn : 4/29/2005 02:14:00 AM

And surely by the same logic, when any politician claims they are so much better today...

Posted by Anonymous : 4/29/2005 09:17:00 AM

More police can increase crime figures.

I remember the British investigation into the high reported Nottingham crime rates in the early 80s. The conclusion of the investigation was that the Nottingham police were extremely good, and that this led people to be more likely to report crimes because they were more sure that the police would actually do something about it.

OTOH higher reported crime figures can occur because there is more crime.

Posted by Icehawk : 4/29/2005 09:28:00 AM

It's generally reckoned that robbery statistics shot up (in the UK) when cellphones came out and were insured on very restrictive terms (basically you can claim if you are mugged for the phone, but not for loss or sneak theft).

Thus thefts or losses of mobiles were recorded as the serious crime of robbery (rather than theft, or indeed insurance fraud).

Posted by Rich : 4/29/2005 02:44:00 PM

Although in pointing these things out I would hesitate to decrease the number of police. Perhaps a reforming along the lines of local wardens for petty crimes, thug police for mungo duties and a stand-alone CIB/detective agency along with a separate prosecution service... you know, like a normal first world country that takes accountability seriously.

BTW: many of those uniformed people in police cars are not sworn officers at all. I recall a certain whimpering child molester in TV footage in a police uniform - he was never a member of the polce.

Posted by t selwyn : 4/29/2005 05:22:00 PM

Tim: a point to note wrt police numbers per capita is that we have far better transport and communications technology now than we did then, allowing a smaller number of police to cover a wider area and do more.

Anon: well, there's nothing in there ruling out short-term comparisons, but even then we should be aware of major social changes that might lead to sudden shifts in the stats. For example, the best explanation for the oft-cited increase in violent crime (when everythign else is going down" is P...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/29/2005 08:58:00 PM

P - schmee.

The late 50s is the key - the plateau of stats on crime and police are settled from the thirties and then a solid increase from the late 50s onwards. I don't have the stats after '97 however.

Maybe increased urbanisation from the late 50s - different people from rural areas and different ethnicities trying to get by in an akward environment? General disrespect and suspicion of authority reaching into even middle class homes? Something tells me stats from all over the world are going to read similarly.

Is it drugs? Only 6% of inmates are in there for a "major offence" of drugs in 1997. Although, how many crimes are the result of drugs: burglary, violence etc.? Maybe at least that number again. Maybe legalisation could get rid of about 10%?....

... then we would feel we weren't doing our jobs and filling the prisons to overflowing, right? There are dozens of perfectly nice Afrikaaners who have made the necessary gestures of contrition in front of Mr Tutu's Kleenex Commission in the Republic right now who will be Kiwi screws in five years time who are counting on that swelling prison number. We wouldn't want to dissappoint them. Is that the purpose of those police units going around bars picking fights by harassing smokers and people who are drunk? - because they now see fit to enforce the rule that no intoxicated person can even be present on a licenced premises... He ain't heavy...

Posted by t selwyn : 4/30/2005 02:50:00 AM