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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Crime Statistics and Surveys in Northern Ireland



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Crime Statistics and Survey in Northern Ireland

Bill Lockhart
Centre for Independent Research and Analysis of Crime

Crime statistics in Northern Ireland are notable for several reasons. Firstly, contrary to the media image, the province suffers from very low levels of crime. According to both recorded crime figures and victim surveys Northern Ireland has one of the lowest levels of crime in Western Europe. For example, recorded crimes for 1990 showed that it had the lowest rate of recorded crime per 1,000 of the population compared with all 43 police constabulary areas in England and Wales. While the 1989 International Crime Survey (van Dijk, Mayhew and Killias, 1991) found that it had the lowest rates of victimisations for all the fourteen countries surveyed.

Secondly, although the overall crime rates are low it has a high rate of serious crime, such as homicide and robbery. These crimes are almost exclusively associated with terrorism and the "troubles". Similarly there is also believed to be a high level of racketeering, extortion and intimidation, again associated with terrorist groups, although the extent of these offenses are extremely difficult to quantify.

A third factor, in terms of the province's crime profile, is a highest rate of car theft, or more accurately Taking and Driving Away. This is particularly prominent in Belfast and has attracted much media attention. This is due to a number of very serious incidents where young drivers have been shot while driving through security force check points and also because of the brutal physical assaults handed out by terrorist groups to suspected offenders.

Lack of Criminological Research

Given its location, demographics and political situation one would have expected Northern Ireland to be a conductive place for research purposes. However, criminological research is not well developed in the province. Neither of the two universities have much tradition in criminology; with few, if any, of the academic staff describing themselves as criminologists. There may be a number of reasons for this but, perhaps, the most prominent one is market forces. The Northern Ireland Office (Nb), until recently, had no specific research budget and even now it is tiny compared to that available to the Home Office Research and Planning Unit. Clearly without a government customer or sponsor for research the opportunities to develop a research programme are limited.

Obviously the paucity of criminological research in Northern Ireland is to be regretted. In a democracy it is important for such work to be undertaken. The operation of the criminal justice system requires empirical investigation and critical commentary from an independent standpoint.

In recent years the situation has begun to improve. The NIO now has a small budget with which to commission research. Access to information from government sources is becoming more open. There are stirrings of interest within the universities. CIRAC (Centre for Independent Research and Analysis of Crime) was established by the Extern Organisation in 1989 and now has a modest research programme underway. Clearly such developments are to be welcomed but there is still a long way to go.

Government Sources of Information on Crime

In Northern Ireland the classification systems used for both offenses recorded by the police and court proceedings are broadly similar to those in use in England and Wales. The same terminology is used, though some differences do occur, largely because of differences in legislation. Nonetheless, direct comparisons are usually possible.

In England and Wales the Home Office releases quarterly figures for notifiable offenses. This usually comes within a couple of months of the end of a quarter. In Northern Ireland figures are only made available on an annual basis.

These annual figures are usually first released in the early summer of the succeeding year in the Royal Ulster Constabulary Chief Constable's Annual Report. This document details the previous year's crime profile in terms of main crime categories. It provides a valuable breakdown of terrrorist related crime. It is also the only published source of crime by police division; this allows comparison of crime levels in different parts of the province. The Chief Constable's report is supplemented by an annual report from the Independent Commission for Police Complaints for Northern Ireland and a triennial report from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland.

Requests for additional information for research purposes should be addressed in writing to the Chief Constable. The RUC Command Secretariat are happy to consider and advise on such requests.

Following the publication of the Chief Constable's Report, Northern Ireland Office produce an annual Commentary on the Northern Ireland Crime Statistics for the preceding year. This is an extensive document which details offenses recorded by the police, offenses cleared, court proceedings, sentencing, prison population, and also offers a number of international comparisons. The information is mainly of a descriptive nature and provides little by way of critical analysis of explanation of trends. While it is a most valuable document it is unfortunately not yet as user friendly as the excellent Digest of Information on the Criminal Justice system produced by the Home Office. The Northern Ireland Commentary is not so wide in its coverage as the Home Office Digest, which contains information on victims, human resources and expenditure on the criminal justice system. Nonetheless, both documents are broadly similar and useful comparative purposes.

In addition to the annual crime commentary the NIO produces a quarterly press release on the operation of the Emergency Provisions Act, an annual report on the work of Northern Ireland Prison Service, and periodic bulletins on research carried out or commissioned by the Statistics and Research Branch. The Northern Ireland Office supplies regular statistical information to a number of other public domain publications such as: Social Trends, Regional Trends, Annual Abstract of Statistics, (all Central Statistical Office, HMSO, London), Northern Ireland Abstract of Statistics; Scottish Facts Card (Scottish Home and Health Department); Council of Europe Prison Statistics (European Committee on Crime Problems, Strasbourg); and the United Nations Crime Survey (School of Criminal Justice, State University of New York, USA).

The NIO maintains a number of data bases for management purposes. However, on occasion, analysis from these may be made available to bona fide researchers. Data bases include information on recorded crime and offenders coming before the courts. Requests and queries should be made in the first instance to: The Principal Statistician,, Statistics and Research Branch, Northern Ireland Office.

Published statistics from the Northern Ireland Office can augmented by Judicial Statistics for Northern Ireland produced annually by the Northern Ireland Courts Service. The Probation Board for Northern Ireland publishes periodic reports of its work which contain a statistical review. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights produces an annual report which frequently provides statistical information on aspects of the workings of the criminal justice system.

There is no equivalent to the British Crime Survey (Archive study number 33174). The CHS, however, has periodically contained sections on crime. For most purposes it is possible to make meaningful comparisons between the Continuous Household Survey (Crime Section) and information contained in the British Crime Survey.

A non-statutory source of crime data is the NI Social Attitudes Survey (Archive study number 33235). A special module in 1990 dealt with non-sectarian and sectarian crime as well as attitudes to the police and security forces. It is envisaged that sections relating to crime will be included every 2-4 years. Data are readily available for secondary analysis purposes and are lodged with the ESRC Data Archive. Mapstone (1992) recently published the results of a social attitudes survey with part-time members of the RUC Reserve which allow some direct comparisons with the Northern Ireland Social Attitude Survey for members of the general public.

CIRAC regularly produces statistical information on local patterns and trends in crime; for example, car theft, burglary in a police sub-division, and analyses of cases coming before a juvenile court. Regular research reports are published on topics such as vandalism surveys, car theft and self-reported delinquency, while occasional reports are written on research undertaken, which include neighbourhood crime surveys, and project evaluations. This research is strongly policy oriented. CIRAC is soon to participate in a major international comparative study on self-reported delinquency led by the Dutch Ministry of Justice. It is envisaged that the data from this study will be lodged with the Data Archive.

Other sources of statistical information on crime include: the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the Irish Council of Churches, Victim Support Northern Ireland and various departments in both Universities. Unfortunately a great deal of this information remains uncollated and there are problems over standardisation of methods of data collection, which makes comparative analyses difficult.

ESRC Data Archive

A scan of the ESRC Data Archive Mini Catalogue reveals very little lodged on crime and related subjects in Northern Ireland. This is a situation which we would hope will be rectified in the next few years.

References

Mapstone, F. (1992) "The Attitudes of Police in a Divided Society: the Case of Northern Ireland", British Journal of Criminology Vol.32, No.2, pp.18-92.

Van Dijk, J. J. M, Mayhew, P and Killias, M. (1991) Experiences of Crime Across the World: Key Findings of the 1989 International Crime Survey, Deventer: Kluiver Law and Taxation Publishers.


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