Simon Auffret

Journaliste formé à l'IUT de Lannion.
Notamment intéressé par le journalisme de données.

A map that should not be trusted

Despite the great accuracy and public availability of the Crime Statistics in Ireland, several reports showed evidence of dysfunctions in recording and classifying criminal incidents. What should be a helping tool in policy decision-making is finally revealing imperfections at all levels in the Garda Síochána - with implications for all the victims.

In May 2012, somewhere in Ireland, a robbery took place where a suspect snatched a handbag from the victim. A regrettably common crime, that could happen to any of us. The Garda has been alerted, as usual. But no statement was ever taken from the victim, no suspect photographs were shown to the victim and no further investigation is recorded.

The incident did not appeared in PULSE - the computer system used by the Garda to record incidents - until July 2013, and only after a request from the Garda Inspectorate - the institution responsible of the efficiency of the Garda Síochána.

When the crime was recorded, it was incorrectly categorised as theft, instead of robbery. It now appears among the 6,518 crimes labelled as “Theft from person” in the annual report made by the CSO - Central Statistics Office - in 2013.

This true story is one among others revealed by the Garda Inspectorate in a 489 pages report entitled ‘ Crime Investigation ’ and released in October 2014. It showed many problems in the way the Garda is collecting and categorizing incidents on a daily basis. “The veracity of crime recording in Ireland must be addressed immediately”, explained the report. In 2012, 66 per cent of all crimes happening in the country are estimated to have been detected by the Garda Síochána. On those 66 per cent, 46 per cent were “incorrectly classified” or not detailed enough “to determine if the classification was correct”. A robbery becomes a theft and is declared long after the first complain, following the same example.

These figures are a great matter of concern, considering that crime statistics play an important role in political decisions and overview strategy led by the Garda Síochána management. The Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O'Sullivan, commented on the report saying that “crime reporting is certainly not an exact science, and it is something that police forces the world over grapple with”. Frances Fitzgerald, at the time Minister for Justice, stated that "The Inspectorate report raises serious concerns and represents a highly challenging analysis of Garda processes and systems, highlights serious systemic weaknesses".

Crimes under-recorded by about 38 %

The map presented above, supposed to represent the evolution and the geographical repartition of burglaries in Dublin, is certainly not a true mirror of the reality. It is based on a dataset compiled by the CSO, who uses PULSE, filled by the GISC - Garda Information Services Centre, who reports the incident directly after a call from a garda officer - helped by the Garda Síochána Analysis Service (GSAS), which serves to analyse crime - but does not have data ownership.

The complicated cooperation of all these institutions, combined to the lack of sub-categories in defining crimes and the lack of accuracy in recording it, denounced by the Inspectorate report, make the faithful record of more than 200,000 crimes every year impossible. Any Garda officer can, everyday, change the victim or suspect’s details, the qualification of a majority of crimes, or any details about an incident, without being controlled by a supervisor. “PULSE is not a crime investigation system; it is an incident recording system”, summed up the Inspectorate.

Another example showed that the institution tracked 158 calls from members of the public to the Garda Síochána across the country and found poor recording and deployment systems in place, in some cases resulting in the non-attendance of a garda. A total of 44 calls of the 158 calls reviewed were not recorded on PULSE.

One major issue underlined by the report was the lack of alternatives in analysing crime figures in Ireland. Except for the CSO in a quarterly national household survey which includes from times to times some questions about crime, the work of the Garda Síochána is the only way to understand crimes in Ireland.

And some Irish media follow this unique source of information about criminal incidents. The Irish Examiner frequently updates its crime stats database , while the Irish Independent did a long analysis of the statistics provided by the CSO. The Irish Mirror decided to trust the partial - but more reliable - figures of court appearances to make conclusions on crime.

“Many of our recommendations depend on the acquisition of modern technology used by most international police services,” said Chief Inspector Olson, one of the three authors of the report. Modernizing equipments all around the country would definitely help garda officers to correctly recording these crimes. “Some garda stations have no access to PULSE and some divisions have no 999 electronic call recording systems. Digital images and attachments, such as photographs and videos, cannot be sent within the Garda Síochána or externally, which limits the ability to provide crime investigation support remotely”, explained the Inspectorate one year after the “Crime Investigation”, in noting that efforts made since the report were not sufficient.

Going further than the technological issues, several reports advice the creation of a independent body responsible for reforming crime recording, acting the transition to a new collecting system and gathering the data that will be sent to the CSO. The latter said it “fully supports the idea of centralising the decision making process in PULSE. This will help ensure that incidents, both crime and non-crime are correctly classified and any decisions regarding reclassification, detection and/or invalidation follow correct procedures.”

Set up in 1999, the PULSE is still the only system proposed to the Garda, despite the advice from the Inspectorate to build a completely different process. An independent data-driven team has, still today, not been put in place in the Garda. “Given the importance of crime statistics, users and the general public need to have confidence in crime statistics and the way they are produced”, concluded the CSO in a report last year.

Simon Auffret d15126874 - May 2016
'Statistics in Journalism' - DIT - Harry Browne

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