Thursday, July 30, 2009

I've often suspected that there was some "cooking the books" involved in the reported CrimeStats provided by the Winnipeg City Police and dutifully reported by the local media. The decreases in some categories of crime have seemed to be too good to be true. If one were to extrapolate from what has been published one would hazard a guess that in 5 years the city police would have little else to do besides hunt down all those vicious jaywalkers and those who spit on the street. The reality is something different than the picture portrayed by the CrimeStats.

There are many ways of lying with statistics. Perhaps the most common way for such projects as CrimeStats is to change definitions in midstream. This can work both ways. Not only can numbers be erased by removing certain acts from the definitions of incident (to make the police look good). Should there be sufficient political pressure and the promise of increased funding other categories can be artificially inflated. The issue of "street gangs" which is in the news recently here in Winnipeg would be an easy target. How many kids are in "street gangs" depends upon your definition of such, and by manipulating the definition you can easily produce a number 10 times higher than the previous one (and, of course, show success in subsequent years-after the money has been doled out- by gradually shrinking the definition).

Here is one example from the Winnipeg Copwatch site of how one category of crime, sexual assault, has had its definition altered. There is also a link to a petition to change the definition back to the previous one where when the victim knows the attacker it is still considered sexual assault. It's an interesting and actually troubling way for stats to be cooked.

CrimeStat no longer recognizes sexual assault where the attacker is known to the victim:
The M.s. Citizenship Feminist Collective is encouraging people to sign a petition to return the definition of sexual assault on the police’s CrimeStat service to one that includes attacks where the perpetrator is known to the victim.

“As of January 1 2008, Winnipeg Police Services’ CrimeStat service changed the definition of sexual assault to ‘an offence that combines the components of assault with circumstances of a sexual nature where the suspect is not known to the victim’ (emphasis added) from the definition based on the Criminal Code which includes sexual assaults where the suspect is known or unknown to the victim. Over 78% of assault in Winnipeg is perpetrated by a suspect known to the victim (Statistic found in ‘Mean Streets?’ Comak, Chopyk and Wood, p.7). This definition change is not in line with Crimestat’s stated principles of disseminating accurate information and promoting transparency and accountability. Winnipeg is the only Canadian city which reports on sexual assaults in this way (As reported by Gabrielle Giroday in the article “ Board wants police website to report all sexual assaults” in the Winnipeg Free Press, May 29, 2009).

We believe that finding holistic and effective solutions to domestic and sexual abuse begins with being given accurate information.
Please go to the Winnipeg CopWatch site to add your name to the following petition.
We the undersigned, demand that Crimestat and Winnipeg Police Services restore the original definition to include those sexual assaults perpetrated by someone known to the victim. We believe that finding holistic and effective solutions to domestic and sexual abuse begins with being given accurate information.

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