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ESRC Data Archive Bulletin:
Crime Statistics and Surveys in Northern Ireland
Text: Bill Lockhart ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change
Crime Statistics and Survey
in Northern Ireland
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
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,
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
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.
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.Return to Contents