Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Government by Truthiness

It's no wonder the Conservatives don't see the value of having accurate Census data, when they're going to disregard statistics completely:

OTTAWA — Canada needs to spend more money building prisons because of violent criminals and a rise in unreported crimes, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day said Tuesday.

"We're very concerned . . . about the increase in the amount of unreported crimes that surveys clearly show are happening," Day said at a news conference. "People simply aren't reporting the same way they used to."

Now, to be fair to Stock, he does have a point. A lot of crimes go unreported. And while this prompted a slew of Twitter jokes about "unreported crimes" ("murse snatchings", "wearing white socks with sandals", "Nickelback"), a lot of unreported crimes are serious.

But...here's the deal. There's no indication that unreported crimes are increasing - quite simply, unreported crimes have been a fact of life since the dawn of time 4,000 years ago. And even if unreported crimes are increasing, I'm not sure how this government plans to get the unreported criminals into their new prisons. (Jeff has one solution)

I know 38% of politicians do it, but you can't just make up statistics to prove your point.



  • CBC reported today that most "unreported" crimes are crimes that the victims feel are too minor to report (vandalized yard fence, broken window, etc.), with a small amount of more serious crimes tossed in. Further, they reported that the level of unreported crimes HAS indeed been measured by StatsCan, and is a level amount (hasn't increased over the years, and IS NOT increasing now). Violent crimes are down, as per CBC and StatsCan...

    (Now queue the Conservative talking-points crowd to argue that both CBC and StatsCan are Liberal agencies... lol...).

    By Blogger WesternGrit, at 8:51 p.m.  

  • Maybe Day knows what Rob Anders was talking about in regards to foreign influence in Canada?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:27 a.m.  

  • As as Albertan, I'm proud to see Stockwell Day reverting to type as a government minister--mispeaking, disregarding facts, and just generally pontificating without knowing what he's talking about. Welcome home, Stock!

    By Anonymous ace, at 11:23 a.m.  

  • I tried to dig up crime stats, and I found a few key things:

    1. Between 1962 and 1973 there was a massive increase in reported crime (I personally blame a wide-spread and covert Soviet effort to undermine Canada for this increase), that is almost totally attributable to the fact that crime reporting and stats went from a literal paper trail to computer generated. It was therefore more comprehensive and more reliable. What this also means is that to cite stats from 1962 is simply wrong. The information is incomplete and unreliable.

    In fact, when you look at this document, the crime rate jumped by this ‘300%’ figure during the transition from paper to computerized record keeping. So rather than some increase in recent times, this phenomenal increase in the crime rate actually occurred in the 1960s. Moreover, going back to 1962 where incomplete and inaccurate stats were the only source of information is so intellectually disingenuous, that it’s difficult to describe. If a university student handed in a stats paper, or ANY paper, with this methodology they would fail. If an employee used this methodology they would be deemed incompetent and summarily fired. For a government to cite such flawed methodology to support it’s billion dollar boondoggle for new prisons, is troubling to say the least, because they either are deliberately lying to and misleading the Canadian public, or they are incompetent.

    2. From 1962 to 2010 Canada’s population has nearly doubled. So the insane number of 300+% jump in crime as reported by CPC mouthpiece Sun Media, is both inaccurate due to the change in method of tracking crime (paper to computer), and because it fails to account for population increase.

    3. The ‘unreported’ crime fiasco is a little more difficult. I can’t seem to get access to the stats, which start in the 1980s. But barring some truly phenomenal jump in ‘unreported crime’, it will not off-set the actual drop in ‘real’ crime. Moreover, there’s the outstanding issue of the fact that the majority of the crimes that fall into the unreported category are minor and wouldn’t merit a prison sentence that would necessitate this MASSIVE billions of dollars increase in spending on prisons.

    Furthermore, there is still the fact that these are ‘unreported’ crimes, making it impossible to send the offenders to prison, whether the crime could be punished by incarceration or not.


    No matter how you slice it, the Conservative position is without foundation and a gross and deliberate distortion of the facts and/or an undeniable indication that the CPC are incompetent and have no business governing our country.

    By Anonymous Luke, at 12:31 p.m.  

  • I am not sure where this idea that "there is no indication that unreported crimes are increasing" comes from. The government measures these regularly when it conducts its survey on victimization.

    According to the General Social Survey unreported crimes are a big problem. They include 88% of sexual assaults, 69% of household thefts and 67% of property thefts, for instance.

    And yes, reporting rates ARE down.
    1993: 68%
    1999: 62%
    2004: 54%

    Motor vehicle theft
    1993: 50%
    1999: 60%
    2004: 49%

    Theft of household property
    1993: 43%
    1999: 32%
    2004: 29%

    1993: 46%
    1999: 34%
    2004: 31%

    (Main source for reporting stats: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-516-x/sectionz/4147446-eng.htm#1)

    While "not important enough" was the most common reason given for not reporting, there were some others that suggest there is work to be done.

    "Police couldn't do anything": 60%
    "Dealt with another way": 30%
    "Didn't want police involved": 22%
    "Police Wouldn't Help": 21%

    These seem like options that reflect a low estimation of the efficacy of the police - and suggest that it might be possible to increase the rate of reporting with the right policies.

    Are violent crimes down? According to the General Social Survey it appears so, but in a far more modest fashion than generally suggested.

    Total violent crimes
    1999: 111/1000 people
    2004: 106/1000 people

    (source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2005007-eng.pdf)

    However, property crimes are up (http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/auto/diagramme-chart/stg2/c_12_60_2_1_eng.png?20091025165305893)

    And while the point about changing accounting standards is well-taken, it is not clear at all that they can account for an increase in crime of the magnitude seen since the 60's. The big change was the adoption of of the Uniform Crime Reporting system in 1961. Lets look at the homicide rate since then, shall we?

    The homicide rate is below the post-1961 average, but still above levels the levels seen in the early 60's (page 7: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2008009/article/10671-eng.pdf).

    And best I can tell the report doesn't say anything about data from 1961 being incomparable with data from the present. Maybe I'm missing something, or maybe Statscan is incompetent, but it ain't there.

    As well, while total crime is falling in the UCR (though this may indeed be due to lower reporting rates, because the Victimization index does not pick this up, violent crime is falling much more slowly, and remains high. Whereas rates were 200 per 100,000 in 1962, they are almost 1000 per 100,000 today (and that is with unreported incidents).


    So what does the data suggest? Day is right that reporting rates are declining. He is wrong that crime is rising, accounting for unreported crime (though it is falling less than people think). And Day is almost certainly right that crime rates are higher today than in the early 60's - although he probably overstates his case.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 10:54 p.m.  

  • But ... how can "unreported" crime be cited by Stats Can? They only accept mandatory surveys, and by definition, unreported crime isn't reported.

    So according to Stats Can, it can't possibly exist: Just see any of a dozen or so of Dan's previous posts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:03 a.m.  

  • "So according to Stats Can, it can't possibly exist: Just see any of a dozen or so of Dan's previous posts."

    Statscan does not only accept mandatory surveys. Relatively few surveys are mandatory, in fact. However, those that are can be used for the purpose of effective weighting. This way we can improve the accuracy of other surveys (like the General Social Survey).

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 8:01 a.m.  

  • Presumably, these unreported crimes will be investigated by virtual police, tried in imaginary courts, and then put into multi-billion dollar prisons.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:29 a.m.  

  • H2H: no, quite the contrary. The chief of Stats Can resigned over the very idea of making a survey voluntary and increasing the size of the pool.

    You may have some religious affinity to the word "census", but mathematics does not.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:49 p.m.  

  • There are obviously issues with any voluntary survey, especially one asking people to report on things like sexual assaults, but I'm willing to take their numbers at face value assuming they kept their methodology consistent for these surveys.

    I guess we'll have to see what the numbers say in September. I really don't think you can extrapolate a 3% increase in unreported crime between 1998 and 2004 as proof that there's an "alarming" increase in unreported crime in Canada.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 5:06 p.m.  

  • It looks like now poor Stock Day is even getting bashed in the National Post:


    Isn't that kind of like getting bitten by your lapdog?

    By Blogger CoteGauche, at 5:23 p.m.  

  • His blog unfortunately went down recently, but Bob Tarantino has some important stats on crime rates here.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 1:29 a.m.  

  • re: Luke's comments above: I (Namesake) had tried to post this on Kinsella's site after you made it there, but he'd lost interest in what was for him just a throwaway post mocking Stock again.

    I mainly agree w. your conclusions, Luke, but some of your specific claims in pts. 1 & 2 above aren't right.

    The specious Sun articles _were_ using the crime rates per 100,000 pop., so your pt. about the pop. increase was offside:

    But you're right about there being lots of reasons to be dubious of the figures from the '60s, incl. their being paper-based. Dr. Paul Reed, who assembled the stats you drew on, mentions that & some other reasons here, where that table on the absolute no. of reported crimes the police were satisfied were real was taken from:

    Nevertheless, I checked on the % diffs, and they didn't show a 300% increase in even the absolute figures on the total crime, property crime, or violent crime for the years you mention (1962-73): just 126%, 167%, & 137%, respectively -- tho' there was a 5161% increase in federal drug crimes! (Damn hippies!)

    So I've pulled the same series of stats the Sun article was working with (which are housed as CANSIM Table 252-0013* until 1997 & was preserved & summarized in various Juristat articles** & other sources*** even after they discontinued that series after they expanded the def. of violent crime & rejigged the stats thereafter, esp. when they came up with a Crime Severity Index, which gives diff. weights to diff. categories of violent crimes, like uttering threats vs. attempted murder).

    * http://cansim2.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-win/cnsmcgi.exe?Lang=E&RootDir=CII/&ResultTemplate=CII/CII___&Array_Pick=1&ArrayId=2520013

    ** http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/index-eng.htm

    *** http://www45.statcan.gc.ca/2009/cgco_2009_004-eng.htm#c07 and


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:03 p.m.  

  • And here's what I've found.

    Goldstein's various figures on the crime rates of police-reported incidents are correct, incl. about the huge % diff's b/w 1962 & 2009.

    But in light of the pts. that you, Dr. Reed, & many others have made about the diff's b/w crime reporting, classifying, & record keeping in the 60's & thereafter, & how the historical stats leave off in '75, but the rates are very similar from '74 to 76, let's take 1975 as the cutoff b/w the two periods.

    So for the category of Total (police-reported) Criminal Code Offenses (excluding traffic offenses), it turns out there was a 147% increase from 1962 to '75, but an -8.3% decrease b/w 1976 and 2009.

    And for Violent crime, there was a 165% increase from 1962 to '75, and (I hesitate to say "but only") a 57.5% increase b/w 1976 and 2009.

    For Property crime, there was a 138% increase from 1962 to '75, but a -34.6% decrease b/w 1976 and 2009.

    For Other Criminal Code offenses, there was a 168% increase from 1962 to '75, and a 35.0% increase b/w 1976 and 2009.

    And here's an important one Goldstein left out: the Homicide rate (per 100,000): which ranged from 1.4 in '62, to 3.0 in '76, to 1.8 for the last few years in a row, for a 114% increase from 1962-75; a -37.9% decrease from 1976-2009; and only (?) a 28.6% change from 1962 to 2009.

    BTW, StatCan's holdings on the (not nec'ly reported to the police) victimization studies can be found via: www.statcan.gc.ca/subject-sujet/subtheme-soustheme.action;jsessionid=75BD43D7599C55297A6B682D41884D6D?pid=2693&id=455&lang=eng&more=0

    Finally, what I found more interesting about the historical stats was the big diff. b/w the Actual offenses & the _Cleared_ ones: where the latter are, "those for which at least one charge has been laid or for which there is enough information to support the laying of a charge but the police are unable to do so for some reason (e.g., death of the suspect)" [or where they violated their rights in the investigation or extraction of the confession, I'd surmise, or where the victims refuse to testify, etc.]

    The diff. b/w them is thus those w. enuff evidence that could actually have a good shot at getting a conviction (assuming they caught the offenders).

    And there's a _huge_ difference b/w the two for some of those categories: such that only an average of 30% of actual (reported) Crimes of Violence in Canada could proceed to trial in that period; 72% of Property crimes; 54% of Other Criminal Code offences; 33% of Federal Drug offences; 12% of Other Federal statute offences; 4% of Provincial statute offences; and 15% of Municipal bylaw offences... or 46% of the Total offenses reported by police between 1962 and 1975.

    That may be a big part of the reason the reporting has been dropping off: if only half of the crimes we report can even go to trial for one reason or another even when the cops do believe us, then what's the point, etc.

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