Beyond the headlines

broken-windowGarda figures only partially reveal the extent of crime in Ireland. Alternative analysis points to higher levels Stephen Dineen reports.

Recession has reduced overall crime levels in Ireland, but it remains above the European average. Recorded crime figures, however, fail to take account of the high level of unreported crime or of population changes. These factors are important in interpreting crime levels and trends.

An Garda Síochána recorded crime figures for the year ending March 2012 show a significant drop across a number of categories on the corresponding 2010-2011 period. Homicides fell by 24 per cent (from 86 to 65), while kidnapping and related crimes decreased by 21.9 per cent (from 128 to 100). Weapons and explosives offences fell by 18.7 per cent (from 4,108 offences down to 3,341).

Burglary and related offences increased by 10.9 per cent, however, from 25,962 to 28,781. Fraud and deception offences increased by 3.5 per cent (from 5,222 to 5,407).

These figures follow on from a fall in serious crime in 2011. All categories decreased except for burglaries, theft and fraud offences.
Recorded crime has fallen from a peak in 2007-2008. Lower disposable income, resulting in less alcohol-related crime and demand for drugs is accepted as one reason for the decline. Others include mass emigration by young people and less garda resources to detect crime. Gangland crime, a by-product of the drugs industry, has fallen with less drug consumption. However, the drop in incomes explains some of the rise in burglaries.

For UCD’s Professor of Criminology Ian O’Donnell, it is misleading to view garda recorded crime figures as a measure of the true amount of crime. However, “it would be equally wrongheaded to dismiss them as worthless,” he tells eolas.

“While imprecise, they yield important insights if placed in an appropriate context, viewed over time, supplemented with other sources, and critically interpreted.” He points out that numerous other agencies (e.g. the Revenue Commissioners, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Safety Authority) also deal with crime.

Not all crimes are recorded. People do not report them for reasons such as the perceived seriousness of the crime or the financial loss involved, and doubts about whether gardaí can do anything about it. International evidence suggests that sexual offences and domestic violence incidents are grossly under-reported.

People may also avoid reporting a crime to gardaí because of insurance implications, perceptions of the likely success of criminal proceedings and the severity of any sentence imposed.

Another important factor in interpreting crime figures is the primary offence rule, in which only the most serious crime is recorded where two or more offences are disclosed in a single episode. Under the continuous offence rule, a single crime is recorded where there are repeated incidents involving the same victim and offender.

As policing priorities change, so can reported crime levels. Greater focus on a particular crime can see increased levels in that category while others fall due to less targeting of detection.

O’Donnell also believes that it is important to think of rates rather than raw numbers: “The increase in the national population over the past twenty years makes this especially important when carrying out retrospective or comparative analyses.”

Crime rates (crimes as a percentage of the population), as compiled by the comprehensive European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics, show that Ireland’s crime level in 2007 was above average among Council of Europe countries.

While the level of assault was higher than that found in most countries, reported fraud, sexual assault and robbery was less prevalent than the European norm.

Under-reporting is illustrated in the findings of the CSO crime and victimisation surveys. Conducted occasionally, they form part of the Quarterly National Household Survey, interviewing people aged 18 years and older about their experiences of crime in the previous 12 months. Last conducted in 2010, the survey found that while people were less worried about being victims of crime than before, under-reporting is increasing.

Nine per cent of all households experienced property crime, a fall from 11 per cent in 2006 (the previous survey). Vandalism and burglary were the most common experiences of crime among households (3 per cent of households respectively).

The 2010 survey found that only 55 per cent of households that experienced vandalism in the previous year had reported it to gardaí. Of those, 51 per cent said that it had not been serious enough or that there had been no loss. This represented an increase from 43 per cent of respondents in 2006.

Personal crime (i.e. theft without violence, theft of a mobile phone, and theft with violence and physical assault) declined minimally, from 5 per cent in 2006 to 4 per cent in 2010.

Dublin experienced the most household crime (12 per cent of households), according to the survey, followed by the midlands and the mid east. In both regions, one in 10 households experienced crime. The border area, the west and the south-west experienced the least.
People in the west were most likely to experience personal crime (6 per cent), however, followed by those in Dublin (5 per cent). Three per cent of those in the border, mid east and mid west were victims of these categories of crime. These were the safest regions in the country.

A slight majority of people do not have much confidence in the criminal justice system. Fifty-five per cent were not very confident or not at all confident in it, compared with 41 per cent who were very confident or fairly confident in it.

Why incident not reported to gardaí %
Not serious enough or no loss 31
Fear of reprisal 11
Other reasons or not stated 11
Solved it myself 10
Felt the gardai would not believe me 8
Did not wish to involve gardaí 7
Believed gardaí would do nothing 6
Reported to other authorities instead 3
Assault offences reported to gardaí 55%

Source: Crime and Victimisation, Quarterly National Household Survey 2010

*Reasons for not reporting total 99 per cent.

Crime rates in Europe

Offences per
Total criminal Intentional
Total assault Sexual assault Robbery
Fraud offences Drug offences
Ireland 11,407 2 352 19 51 140 442
Change in Ireland
2003-2007 (%)
NA NA 13 -44 -28 35 90
(42 countries)
4,675 2 229 16 56 168 203
(42 countries)
14,465 7.4 1,546 82 199 797 792

Source: European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics – 2010

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