Cornwall ON – Last week, I showed that crime rates are not increasing in Canada. It seems that the overall crime rate is either declining sharply or, at worse, is flat relative to the early 1990s. The sharp decline is based on police data while the flat line is based on a Statistics Canada household survey. Crime levels are either down, flat but not up.
This discussion now shifts to what is claimed to be a decline in the percentage of crimes reported to the police or inversely a rise in “unreported crimes”. We can actually examine this claim based on a sample survey of Canadian householders aged 15 and up. The survey is conducted by Statistics Canada every five years.
The sample survey suggests that the rate of reported crime (the percentage of those who claim in the survey to have been victimized compared to those who actually report the incidents to the police) has indeed decreased from 34% in 2004 to 31% in 2009. According to a statistical table in the Statistics Canada report, this change is significant. The words used describe this decline in the text indicates that the rate of crime that is reported was “down slightly” between 2004 and 2009.
As such, the decline in reported crime or the inverse “unreported crime” is not showing an alarming upward trend. It is only “down slightly”. “Down slightly” may not be newsworthy as the term “alarming” but it is the measured reality.
So why do many victims of crime not report it to the police? In the 2009 survey, seven out of 10 of those who did not report the crime indicated that the incident was “not important enough” followed by six in 10 who said that “police could not do anything about it”. About four in ten dealt with the incident on their own (I wonder how?) while one-third felt the incident was a personal matter and thus not a police matter.
Among those who did report the incidents, the main reason was a sense of duty (86%) and because they wanted the police to arrest and punish the offender (69%).
The crimes that are most reported are break and enters (54%), the theft of motor vehicles and parts (50%) and robbery with a weapon (43%). The least reported are household property theft (23%) and sexual assault (12%).
The latter is somewhat surprising. Why do some many people who, in a survey, claim to have been sexually assaulted not report it to the police? Is it fear of the aggressor? Is it a feeling that the police will not take them seriously? Is it because they don’t want their friends to know? Unfortunately, the report offers no answers relative to this specific form of victimization.
Reporting of crime seems to depend a lot on the age of the victim. Among violent crimes combined (sexual assault, physical assault and robbery with a weapon) close to half (46%) of victims aged 55 and older reported the incident to the police compared to only 20% of incidents involving those age 15 to 24 years.
Location is also important. Half of violent crimes that occurred in the victim’s home or surrounding area were reported to the police while only 20% of incidents that took place at a place of business or public institution were reported to the police.
Value also matters. About 70% of household incidents were reported to the police when the value of the stolen or damaged property was over $1,000, while only 15% of incidents where the value was less than this amount were reported.
The victimization surveys are a useful addition to actual police records. The surveys rely on the ability to recall incidents, on the truthfulness of the respondents, on their understanding of the questions asked and their willingness to even answer the questions. The response rate to this “voluntary” survey dipped from 75% in 2004 to only 62% in 2009.
Another international survey of 30 countries found that Canadians were near the middle of the pack in claiming that they were victims of crime. In sharp contrast, Canadians were at the low end when it came to reporting these crimes to the police.
Roger Sauvé is President of People Patterns Consulting (www.peoplepatternsconsulting.com). Roger is an economist and demographer.