Something is seriously wrong. The strangulation and beating of an 18-year-old teenage boy, the abduction and strangulation of a 24-year-old waitress, the savage beating and killing of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, and now the triple shooting at a Bray boxing club all within the space of just over two weeks.

A serious country would see this breakdown in law and order as a sign, one that is symptomatic of a deeper failure from within its culture. The events of recent weeks are the headline-grabbing cases, crimes that cannot be ignored or made disappear by fiddling with the statistics.  

There exists, however, a whole other category of crimes, crimes that have become so routine they have lost their ability to shock or cause public outrage. These will only rarely reach the headlines and are much more likely to be magicked away in an avalanche of statistical data by officials who are embarrassed by their increasing prevalence.

It has now become fashionable to mock people who point to a breakdown in law and order and dismiss them as stirring up mass hysteria or accuse them of whipping up a moral panic. To talk of the elderly being afraid in their own homes or certain locations becoming no-go areas after sunset is to risk being labelled a fearmonger, somebody who reads the sensationalist tabloids. After all the statistics don’t really bear out any of these claims viewed from a long term perspective, or so we are told in the Irish Times.  

Given the scandalous activities of the Gardaí brought to light in recent years, who now would trust a statistic provided by the officials? Certainly not the Central Statistics Office (CSO), who for a full year suspended publishing crime statistics such was its unease with how the raw data provided by the Gardaí was being calculated.

The CSO have since agreed to start publishing statistics again, doubtlessly as a result of governmental pressure, and this year’s figures published in late March come with a stark proviso. According to the CSO data from the Garda PULSE system, the internal database used to log crimes “is now subject to a number of separate ongoing quality reviews and does not currently meet the CSO’s standards for completeness and accuracy”.

The most recent statistics (substandard as they may be) show that crime had significantly increased in 2017 compared to 2016 across nearly all categories. This should be cause for concern because given the recent scandals, this was a year the Gardaí knew their statistics would be under severe public scrutiny, and so we have seen the numbers increase dramatically.

Any attempts to massage the figures in comparison to the previous year this time around would have been picked up quickly, given new levels of mistrust. For once we got a small glimpse of the real truth and something resembling the real figures.

The idea that the Gardaí engage in what is sometimes euphemistically known as “good housekeeping” with their numbers is not new. The Garda Inspectorate in a 2014 report found “serious failures in the recording, classification and reclassification of crime incidents.” Theft and related offences were out by a huge 27 per cent, sexual crimes counted wrongly by a margin of 5 per cent and burglaries were recorded inaccurately by 18 per cent.

Only this year two extremely brave whistleblowers, Lois West and Laura Galligan, working in the Gardaí’s statistics unit described how they were treated when they questioned the dubious nature of the statistics they were dealing with. They detailed how they came under “severe pressure” to withdraw their misgivings, and “to ignore our professional standards”. They further explained that their “integrity, both personal and professional was undermined and attacked”.

Given the revelations coming from the disclosures tribunal and its investigation into gross misconduct by An Garda Síochána, can anybody seriously suggest that a concerted conspiracy to fiddle crime statistics is beyond the realm of possibility when it comes to the high ranking members of our police force?

The work of Dr Rodger Patrick a retired detective chief inspector turned academic has shown that what is termed “gaming” is regularly undertaken by police forces in Britain. He has aptly shown how methods can easily be employed to downgrade the seriousness of certain crimes and even make some crimes disappear from official statistics altogether.

Yet supposedly superior broadsheets delight in informing the public that contrary to what is being reported by their colleagues in the roguish red tops and contrary to what the public themselves can see daily: crime is in fact stable or even decreasing. This is true gutter journalism, as bad if not even worse than what is found in some tabloids. To unquestioningly take figures at face value and report them as sanctified fact without ever considering who has compiled them, by what methods, or the motives of those doing the compiling amounts at best to laziness or at worst to journalistic malpractice.

This false reporting of crime statistics will no doubt continue because it suits all parties involved. It suits those in the press to trot out Garda press office propaganda statements verbatim, without displaying a hint of the healthy suspicion that characterises a good journalist. It suits the Gardaí to make it look like they are an effective police force, and allows them to proclaim the success of defeatist initiatives like their “lock up, light up” campaign. The core message of which seemed to be that it is a homeowners job to deter criminals, and not that of a visible police force or a competent judiciary willing to impose genuinely punitive sentences.

But, most importantly, it suits the state and successive governments to keep up the pretence that their support for what is essentially a Fabian criminal justice model is in fact working when it clearly is not.

Posted by Jason Newman