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British Statistics May Be Misleading

Justice Minister, Tony Ryall, today released advice from the Ministry of Justice showing statistics produced by the British Home Office regarding the level of violent offending in New Zealand may be misleading if compared to other countries.

"In fact since 1995 the rate of recorded violent offending (that is the number of recorded violent offences per head of population) has actually been falling in line with overall crime rates. While violence is still too high the trend is right," Mr Ryall said.

"The Ministry has advised me that the statistics produced by the British Home Office study cannot be used to make between-country comparisons. The authors of the report themselves included a precautionary footnote to this effect.

"The advice received shows that, using similar definitions of violent offending as are used by many countries in the study, New Zealand's rate of violent offending effectively halves and is lower than Australia, Canada and the United States.

"Violent crime is too high whatever its level. New Zealand's Police and the community are working hard to reduce crime of all types," Mr Ryall concluded.




You requested that the Ministry of Justice urgently assess the British Home Office report Criminal Statistics. England and Wales 1997. Statistics relating to Crime and Criminal Proceedings for the year 1997 as cited by the Weekend Herald (August 21-22, 1999, page 1) that New Zealand ranks second only to South Africa in terms of violent crime per head of population. The following report:
 assesses the accuracy of some crime figures presented in the Weekend Herald article Paradise lost to thugs and bashers (August 21-22, 1999);
 makes some observations about the varying crime definitions applied which impact upon the interpretation of any international comparisons of crime statistics;
 outlines the data collections procedures used by the Home Office; and
 updates some crime statistics for New Zealand.

We derived violent crime rates for contributing countries to the Home Office report from violent crime figures (Table 10.4, page 217) and population figures provided by the Home Office. Our derived rates are presented in Table 1 (attached). While our figures do not agree exactly with those reported by the Weekend Herald, they are reasonably similar, and New Zealand’s ranking relative to Canada, Australia, and the United States is accurately reported.

Homicide rates are referred to, and compared in the fourth paragraph of the Weekend Herald article. These rates are correctly cited from the Home Office report (Table 10.2, p215) and are presented in Table 2 (attached), together with the homicide rates for some other countries. However, it should be noted that the homicide rates for South Africa, Russia and the United States are at least three times that of New Zealand, and in the case of South Africa is twenty four times that of New Zealand.

Some important differences in the definition of violent crime used among the contributing countries to the Home Office report are documented in the notes accompanying Table 1. Some countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, and Russia do not appear to include minor assaults, intimidation, and threats within their definition of violent crime. However, the New Zealand definition does include these crimes, which together make up approximately half of all violent crime in this country. If these crime types were to be excluded from our definition, the New Zealand violent crime rate would be approximately halved, making it lower than for Canada, Australia, and the United States. Differences in definitions of violent crime make international comparisons somewhat problematic, and account for at least some of the apparent differences between countries in recorded violent crime rates.

The comparative crime figures in the British Home Office report were obtained from official sources in each country. However, the authors refrained from commenting upon either the accuracy or completeness of the figures provided to them. They did, however, note that the recorded crime levels were likely to be affected by many factors including:
 different legal and criminal justice systems;
 rates at which crimes are reported to the police and recorded by them;
 differences in the point at which crime is measured. (For some countries, this is the time at which the offence is reported to the police, while for others it does not take place until a suspect is identified and the papers are forwarded to the prosecutor.);
 differences in the rules by which multiple offences are counted;
 differences in the list of offences which are included in the overall crime figures; and
 changes in data quality.

New Zealand crime figures recorded by the police are now available for 1998. Total and violent crime figures are shown in Table 3 (attached), along with comparative statistics for 1994 to 1997. For the years shown, total reported crime figures are highest for 1996, and have declined in the past two years, whereas the figures for violent crime have increased slightly from 1994 to 1998.

Lastly, the article correctly cites Ministry of Justice figures for convictions for violent crime, reporting that convictions for violent crime in 1997 were up 65 percent on 1988 figures. However, the article exaggerates the increased seriousness of the violence over time. While the average seriousness of violent offences increased strongly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it dropped between 1992 and 1994, and during 1995 to 1998 the rate of increase in the average seriousness of violent offences has been very small. For your information, the numbers of convictions for violent crimes and the average seriousness of violent crimes, including 1998 figures, are set out in Table 4 (attached).

Mandy McDonald
Deputy Secretary, Criminal Justice

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