Lies, lies and damned Jamaican crime statistics

In a friendly exchange with attorney, Clyde Williams, I tried to air a concern with some of the basic Jamaican crime ‘data’ published. The concern is simple: not all crimes are alike and have much meaning if one only looks at incidents. To make the point more clearly, look at the table below:

We can accept that ‘murders’ are measured in units of deaths, i.e., 1351 people were reported as killed in 2016. But, what do we know about the 1219 reported shootings in the same year? Unless we know things like how many bullets were discharged, we don’t know how to interpret the 1219 shootings in 2016, relative to the 1070 in 2015. In other words, for crimes that involve an action with other consequences, we need to know the content of the action. Otherwise, we make a simple mistake of saying crime has risen or fallen based merely on incidents. For clarity, 1219 shootings with a total of 10,000 shots/bullets, would be less that 1070 shootings with 12,000 shots discharged. So, crime volume could have lessened.

Now, the JCF can argue that data on incidents are easy to compile, but details of what took place would be difficult to compile. Maybe, but in that case they’d better take care is telling us what they believe is happening to crime.

Incidents involving removal of property have similar problems. A robbery that involves $1 million isn’t the same as one involving $10,000. So, fewer robberies in 2016 over 2015, but for greater value in 2016 than in 2015, would be an increase in crime, in my eyes.

One reason why value details are important is that the likelihood of reporting tends to rise with the value of the losses.

Again, JCF can argue that it takes more work and creates problems of verification, if one seeks to assign monetary values to certain crimes.

Focus on incidents also hides another feature of the real volumes of crime. Data tend to show one incident irrespective of number of participants. So, a gang of five involved in a robbery or a murder is one robbery or one murder, the same as a single robber or murderer. I think it’s obvious what the problem is there. In such cases, I’m not sure if ‘cleared up’ would mean solving the robbery as distinct from finding all the robbers. Of course, if the ‘ clearing up’ means finding all the criminals, then we can breathe some sighs of relief. But, I hope you can see the difference that details make to our understanding of what types of crimes are really being committed.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

One thought on “Lies, lies and damned Jamaican crime statistics”

  1. “Cleared up” can mean that the man allegedly responsible for 10 murders is shot dead by the police – thus clearing up 10 crimes in one go. Actually, I thought that the percentage of murders solved was far lower than what obtains in this table?

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.