The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service says that except for murders, serious crime is down.
But the TTPS's own statistics are telling a different story.
Last Tuesday, Public Information officer ASP Joanne Archie told the media that contrary to claims from the Police Social and Welfare Association, the serious crime rate was lower around this time in 2012 when compared to the same time last year. "Our statistics show a ten per cent decrease in serious crime where the 21st Century Policing Initiative has been implemented," Archie said.
On that same day, Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson told the American Chamber of Commerce, "In 2010, serious crimes were 22,000. In 2011, it went to 18,000, and for this year, the trend is showing a downward. But homicides, we are making a distinction, homicide is the thing that we are grappling with, but crime is down."
In January this year, Richardson had also asserted that there had been a 70 per cent drop in serious crime in 2011 as compared to 2010.
Such findings depend on how the comparison is carried out, however. Archie used data from just a few divisions, which were not representative of the overall crime picture in T&T. Also, using statistics from 2011 would not give an accurate picture of trends because of the State of Emergency, which lasted from August 21 to December 5, since that situation was not typical. Due to the 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and heightened police action, serious crimes dropped drastically. (See Table 1 and Table 3)
Once the State of Emergency was lifted, however, crime rates began to rise almost immediately. By the month of January, serious crimes had already increased by about 18 per cent. (See Table 2)
This means that 2011 was an outlier year whereas trends have to be calculated from a mean average. The Central Statistical Office's Report on Crime Statistics lists 12 categories of serious crime, ranging from murder to forgery. A better estimate of crime trends is therefore obtained by comparing the first four months of the last three years, from 2009 to 2012. (See Table 3)
The TTPS website only provides figures up to April of this year. According to these statistics, there has only been a slight decrease in woundings, shootings and burglaries. Robberies, narcotics seizures have increased, and so have murders. These figures reflect a 22 per cent rise in serious crimes, contradicting Richardson's claim that there has been a downward trend this year. This means that he is either using other statistics which show a drop in crime, or the TTPS website figures up to April are misleading.
Richardson has also claimed that except for homicides, serious crimes are declining. Criminological data, however, imply that this is unlikely —ie, when a society's murder rate is high, other types of crime also tend to be high. In studies in Crime, Delinquency and Justice, criminologists conclude from a data set covering 1977-1993 that "over time, the per cent of violent crime (homicide, assault and rape) to property crime (burglary, break-in and larceny) has...increased in Trinidad and Tobago." From a 1975-1995 data set, the researchers also note that "although the patterns in violent crime differ from nation to nation, it is evident... that these crimes have increased... over the 21-year-period."
Murders are usually also the most reliable crime statistic: people may not report rapes or robberies, but murders are very rarely concealed. However, a retired police inspector, who prefers to stay anonymous, told the Sunday Express that murders are also being under-reported by the TTPS. Based on reports compiled from the media, the retired officer lists (with names and manner of death) 189 killings up to June 5 this year as compared to an official figure of 176.
Table 4 shows the murder rate for the last three years. There was a 27 per cent drop in homicides in 2011 as compared to the previous year. However, if present trends continue, the murder total at the end of 2012 will show a 14 per cent increase.
With less serious crimes, reportage is even more problematic. A 2001 survey by criminologist Ramesh Deosaran, now chairman of the Police Service Commission, found that 60 per cent of robberies and burglaries are not reported to the police nor were 80 per cent of incidents of incest, rape and domestic violence. Deosaran also estimated that 90 per cent of drug abuse and trafficking go undetected. According to the CSO's Report on Crime Statistics, "No confidence in the police was the main reason given by household heads who didn't report crimes. Deosaran, in his report, recommended annual victimisation surveys, which would tell the authorities how many persons have been victims of crime and, therefore, the actual levels of crime in the society, instead of just the reported level.