Is drop in crime real or statistical fluctuation?

Statistics show a decrease in criminal activity in the Czech Republic

Official statistics released on Tuesday suggest there has been an overall decrease in crime in the Czech Republic. It's the first such reported decrease since 1994, and the statistics claim that the crime rate has finally stabilised after the sharp increase that followed the 1989 fall of Communism. Some believe, however, that the statistics do not tell the whole story. One of the sceptics is commentator Vaclav Pinkava, and earlier Radio Prague's Helen Belmont spoke to him by telephone:

Vaclav Pinkava: Well, I'm not sure there is such a phenomenon at all. If you look at these figures - and they are available on the Internet - the apparent decrease is followed with a decrease in the percentage of crimes that have been unravelled, or solved if you like. So you have a decrease in the absolute crime reported, a decrease in those which have been successfully closed. And the decrease in those that have been successfully closed is greater than the decrease in the crimes. So, actually you could say that's a spurious statement, that there's been a decrease.

It could well be that they are spending so much of their time doing the statistics that they're not spending enough time on the streets actually finding out if there is crime. I had a case personally this year where my car was broken into by somebody desperate enough to steal a spare tire. It was an estate car, and he broke the back window. I'm sure that that figure is in the statistics. But what I noticed in the process of reporting that, which I duly did, is that the police officer who was writing the report was still using a manual typewriter, as he was the last time this happened to me two years ago. And spending an awfully long time just writing up the report. I think if more attention was paid to that, rather than publishing glorious figures, maybe there'd be some progress.

Radio Prague: And it's definitely not attributable to a more efficient police force?

VP: I don't think so, no. And I don't think it's attributable to a more civilised society either.

RP: So it's just a mere fluctuation in the figures?

VP: It looks to be that, when you actually look at the figures themselves, and all credit to the Ministry of the Interior that they do publish these things on the Internet. There are trends, there are counter-trends. Generally speaking there's an increase in the number of repeat crimes by previous offenders. While there's a decrease in the number of new crimes by new entrants into criminality. There's also, curiously, a relative increase in the number of women committing murder. Although that is a very small percentage of the total number of murderers. These are all very interesting sociological trends, perhaps, but we are still looking at very small fluctuations in the overall mix from year to year. Up or down, I think they can be considered reasonably steady state figures, with the kind of fluctuation that you get in statistical reporting.

RP: What do you think the government or police can do to further reduce crime to get an actual decrease in the crime rate?

VP: Well, I think the important point that I just made, that there seems to be an increase in the number of repeat offending is a clue there that perhaps there's something wrong not so much with the police detecting crimes but with the way that criminals who have been convicted are dealt with. The Czech Republic has a very, very high percentage of criminals in prison. It seems to be counter-productive, just looking at the facts. And if those were dealt with differently, I'm not able to say how differently but we should take some advice here from the international community, I think to try and get less re-offending. Then, of course, the crime rate would go down as a result.

Author: Helen Belmont
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