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Lies, Damned Lies and Crime Statistics

As 2011 draws to a close, law enforcement agencies will soon be publishing crime statistics. In recent years we have seen downward trends for many crimes. Police agencies are quick to note the positive impact of more effective policing and crime prevention tactics. This is true. Improved tools, technology and investigative techniques do play a major role, as does an aging population. But, as with any statistics, there is always more to the story.

Technology is a double-edged sword. It plays a major role not only in solving crime, but also in creating new crimes that never existed before. A paradigm shift is occurring. Identity theft, embezzlement and fraud are ever-increasing crimes that offer a better risk-reward factor to enterprising criminals. Are these new crimes effectively captured in the new statistics, and if so, are they counted the same way?

For instance, an “old school” thief might break into a house, or more likely, dozens of homes since this is his/her modus operandi. Another criminal might steal a victim's identity and use forged credit cards.  The crime stats report each break-and-enter as a separate crime. But what about the criminal with dozens of forged credit cards? Is that counted as one crime or dozens?

Statistics in major cities show decreases in the major crime categories commonly reported, such as violent crime, robbery, property crime, burglary and theft.  Where does our identity theft example fit in? Is it reflected in another category not historically reported on? I suspect it's categorized differently, possibly under a "fraud" category not part of the summary presented. Statistics can only be relevant if we get the whole picture.

Armed robberies are a perfect example of the paradigm shift.  They have decreased across North America, partly due to improved detection, security and decreased cash on hand. They don't even make bank robber movies anymore! But there is another reason for the decrease.

There are huge risks in robbing a bank. Someone might recognize you from the surveillance camera (it will be all over the news), you may be physically apprehended, or worse, violence may ensue.  All that risk for only a few thousand dollars, likely shared with a getaway car driver.  Not a good risk-reward ratio compared to easy money from identity theft. But it's still robbery. Isn't it? 

Crime statistics are just one example of why it’s always good to ask questions, take a closer look, and view with some scepticism. 

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