Saturday, 19 July 2008

Less crime but fewer reporting it, says expert

NSW Police figures boasting falls in crime are flawed and are not taking into account the fact that more incidents are going unreported, a leading Sydney criminologist has said.

Police trumpeted recent Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research figures this month showing all crime is either stable or falling across the state.

Figures are most positive for the number of assaults and robberies, down more than 17 per cent.

But Professor Mark Findlay, from Sydney University's Institute of Criminology, said the figures failed to take into account falling rates of reporting.

In the four years to April last year, the percentage of robberies reported had almost halved and the number of people who did not report an assault had risen by 45 per cent.

Professor Findlay said the figures reflected a move away from "community policing" strategies towards centralised crime fighting squads, such as forensics and narcotics, which although effective were not building traditional relationships in the community.

"A reduction in the visibility of police means there's less reporting," he said. "In some communities, you're going to find a resistance to police culturally so you have to do a lot more work to increase reporting rates."

But the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Don Weatherburn, said data over a longer period since the 1990s showed rates of reporting of assaults had remained stable at about 35 per cent. The major shift was the number who said they were victims of assault, up from 2 per cent to about 4 per cent of the population.

"There's been a real increase in assaults over the long-term and … the number of people admitted to hospital has gone up," he said. "But if you look at it over the long term, reporting has increased because of third-party reporting …"

The chairwoman of the NSW Women's Refuge Movement Resource Centre, June Wilson, said domestic violence remained seriously underreported. Its research found just two of every 10 women who experienced violence abuse reported it to police.

"There are barriers to reporting for a number of reasons: for people who might have a different cultural background, for instance, there's language barriers, isolation in their new community, and the expectations of how a woman should act in that culture might be very different."

A police spokesman denied there had been a move away by police from traditional roles in the community, blaming other factors, including alcohol.

"The ABS survey reflects a situation where someone might have felt threatened by assault but is unlikely to report it," he said.

"That is occurring more often these days with the increase in the number of alcohol outlets and longer trading hours."

Of the assault victims in 2006-07, 18 per cent said they did not approach police because the incident was too trivial and 10 per cent said there was nothing police could do.

Quote: Some people don't want to report to police because they don't trust them or they simply don't want to get involved or blamed for a crime they never committed. They know some police are bent and that they can easily be framed by corporate media and affraid that they might be found guilty of a crime themselves for simply reporting a crime. In domestic violence cases people might be affraid that police will lay charges even though that may not be wanted.

Anonymous Reader sent email: Quote: "One reason robberies are under-reported is that police do nothing when they are reported. Recently an unoccupied house in my street was broken into which left us and our neighbours exposed as it allowed access via back yards to otherwise secure inner city dwellings. The Police did nothing for two days. We eventually tracked down the owner and convinced him he needed to come and repair the broken garage doors. It's the same with car breakins which are common in our street. People don't report them because it's a waste of time. If, however, we had said there was cannabis growing in the breached garage, I bet the response would have been instant and major. Police just want to grab the 'low-hanging fruit' and don't seem to care about real neighbourhood security." Unquote.

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