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Unreported crimes make statistics incomplete, professor says

Saturday, July 26, 2014 7:24 PM
Last updated Sunday, July 27, 2014 1:01 PM
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You might want to use a little more caution when perusing the latest crime statistics. A university professor says you might not be getting the whole picture.



Each year, it’s become customary for news outlets to use the number of crimes reported at the national, state and local levels to identify trends, said Robert Brame, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina.

Those numbers, however, aren’t entirely accurate, he said. For instance, 971 burglaries were reported in Richmond County through the first five months of 2014, compared with 1,019 reported during the same span in 2013. That doesn’t necessarily mean fewer acts of burglary were committed, he said.

“I think the main issue is that with local police departments they’re reporting out only the crimes they know about,” said Brame, who researches the effects of missing data in crime reports. “That’s a subset of the crimes that are actually committed.”

Through the use of the National Crime Victimization Survey, Brame said, it’s clear the majority of crimes that happen to individuals go unreported.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Web site, about 65 percent of property crimes went unreported in 2012, compared with 58.5 percent in 2008.

The decline in reported crimes could be attributed to distrust in law enforcement, Brame said. But crimes could go unreported for other reasons. A mother might not want to report that her son stole money from her dresser out of fear he would be punished by police, for example.

“Sometimes they feel like the police couldn’t really do anything,” he said. “Sometimes the crime was attempted but wasn’t completed, so they feel like it wasn’t important enough to call the police.”

Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree said his department is aware of the amount of the missing data and is actively looking for ways to encourage residents to step forward with information no matter the severity of the crime.

Data-driven agencies, such as the sheriff’s office, rely on reported crimes to adjust patrol patterns, he said.
“Don’t get upset and say, ‘Well, the police never respond,’ ” he said. “We want you to call. That doesn’t require me to send a deputy, but I do need the data. It frees up the deputy so that they can break down violent crime, but it also gets us to start plotting for property crime and damages with the more data we get.”

Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said law enforcement agencies often look for ways to build trust with residents, hoping that rapport will encourage more reports.

“I think a lot of it has to do with trust in the culture,” he said. “Trust is something that you have to earn. Trust is something that you have to earn over a period of time, not overnight.”

Finding a solution would be a lengthy endeavor, Brame said, because fluctuation in the number of crimes reported year to year is also cause for concern.

“If the fraction of crime that wasn’t reported to police stayed the same from one year to the next, then you’d be on more solid ground in attributing the number of crimes reported to police to real crime changes,” he said. “The problem is the rate of non-reporting itself varies year to year.”

To better analyze statistics, Brame said, he wants to start looking at intervals instead of hard numbers. By having high and low thresholds, he might have a better picture of how crime is reported between and within municipalities.

“(The Bureau of Justice Statistics) is putting in place a couple of systems that I think will allow us to make real progress in this area and give us another window in addition to the police numbers – at least down to the state numbers,” he said. “I think that’s a big improvement and I think it’s only a couple of years away.”

In the meantime, Round­tree said he wants residents to use whatever medium they are most comfortable with to report a crime, be it through personal interaction or social media. And if the numbers show an increase next year, that might be a good thing, he said.

“Don’t be alarmed if it looks like your crime rate or statistics go up,” he said. “Rape is one of the most unreported crimes there is. If our numbers go up, it doesn’t mean we have more rapists. It means we have more people who have the courage to report it to law enforcement. We look at that as a positive.”

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countyman
20623
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countyman 07/25/14 - 08:59 pm
3
10
Fair!!!

Why single out Richmond County in the headline?

Gage Creed
17863
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Gage Creed 07/25/14 - 09:06 pm
7
1
Fair!!

Why not single out Richmond County in the headline?

csraguy
2333
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csraguy 07/26/14 - 12:52 am
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0
Headlines

They are OFTEN misleading, don't represent the truth and are here to grab our attention. The press no longer "reports" news, they are a business like all other media outlets and print media is the worst due to their shrinking income.

The headline could just have easily read...Richmond County Crime Statistics are more accurate than ever due to reporting improvements...but we don't know the true answer to that headline anymore than the one that was chosen.

What we do know is that of reported crimes (which remain fairly consistent year to year based on the area) that the new Richmond County Policing methods have resulted in less people being shot, less people being killed, less people being injured in car accidents and less people dying on our roadways - as those incidents have a 99.9% reporting rate, pretty good news for Richmond County residents.

Now, for the crimes that are reported each year (which may be under or over reported for all anyone really knows), again, the good news is that Violent Crime Reports dropped 14% in 2013 and again 12% so far this year. Property Crimes Reported dropped 14% in 2013 and another 14% year to date so far for 2014....excellent news. Traffic crashes, serious injuries and roadway fatalities (excluding pedestrians) have also dropped tremendously in Richmond County.

At the end of the day, this article says what everyone already knows, statistics can often be used to prove a point one way or another anywhere in the world or in our own county. But, for reported crimes (Most all law abiding citizens report crime when they are a victim), Richmond County is heading in the right direction for our community.

bdouglas
5398
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bdouglas 07/26/14 - 01:25 am
10
4
Because it's the AUGUSTA

Because it's the AUGUSTA Chronicle? And not the AIKEN Standard or the COLUMBIA COUNTY News Times? Maybe?

Travis Highfield
225
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Travis Highfield 07/26/14 - 01:33 am
4
0
I think you're missing the point, csraguy.

Dr. Brame is suggesting that a drop in reported crime doesn't equal a drop in actual crime.

Also, you're right that there has been fewer reports of aggravated assaults in 2014 than in 2013. However, according to the crime stats on Richmond County Sheriff's Office website, there have been double the homicides through the first five months of the year.

Riverman1
87013
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Riverman1 07/26/14 - 06:23 am
6
0
Crime Has Decreased

I believe crime has decreased under Sheriff Roundtree and his community policing policy. The RCSO presents a good face to the community and to the media. It's obvious the department is pro-active.

nocnoc
45058
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nocnoc 07/26/14 - 06:49 am
4
1
Using Red tape to Hide some and acknowledging others

Go to the AC Crime Database and start counting the breakdowns of each type of crime. The layout forces the reader to spend 20-35 mins adding up each slice of a crime subject to get the whole PIE.

Examples
89+/- ways RCSO uses to list Burglaries
12 ways to list Assault
12 ways to list Robbery
7 ways to list Murder

Then the researcher runs into the Mis-LABELING issue.

Using the AC Database over the last 4+ years, I found it is not uncommon to find crime locations listed as "OTHER" or arrests listed in the paper, were booked differently, and went to court on another.

So I can see how difficult it is to count crime.

BTW: According to the AC Database when selecting Just plain "Burglary" Jan 1st to July 16th. The search returns "No records found"

corgimom
34196
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corgimom 07/26/14 - 06:55 am
2
2
This is news? Some of us

This is news?

Some of us have been saying this all along.

countyman
20623
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countyman 07/26/14 - 01:27 pm
0
4
How come it's never the

How come it's never the 'Augusta Chronicle' when they include the new businesses in AC or CC? The media definitely reports more of the positives things happening in Evans compared to South Augusta.

The only time the paper becomes the 'Augusta Chronicle' is when something negative is being reported..

''However, according to the crime stats on Richmond County Sheriff's Office website, there have been double the homicides through the first five months of the year.''

The homicide rate hasn't changed May of this year if I remember correctly.. There's 10 homicides through July of this year which is lower than 11 in 2014...

GnipGnop
12467
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GnipGnop 07/26/14 - 01:42 pm
2
2
I don't buy into

Statistics....they are like expert witnesses. I can skew them to support any position I want. Despite his arrogance, I think Roundtree does a better job than his predecessors. I just wish he would lose the arrogant attitude. I know he has a tough job but the way he treats those that ask questions in the jail report is rude. Also, the way he treats Austin Rhodes because of personal reasons does not look very professional. I know Austin can be arrogant too but he is a legitimate member of the l media and should be treated as such.

burninater
9684
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burninater 07/26/14 - 02:05 pm
0
3
"Statistics....they are like

"Statistics....they are like expert witnesses. I can skew them to support any position I want."
--------
No you can't. You can lie, and say they mean something they don't, but that is not the fault of the statistics. That is misrepresentation.

burninater
9684
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burninater 07/26/14 - 02:04 pm
0
6
I'd say countyman has a

I'd say countyman has a legitimate gripe on this one.

The underreporting that the prof is talking about is a general circumstance of crime stats -- it happens EVERYWHERE. To single out Richmond County the way they do on this one, without clarifying that this type of underreporting happens EVERYWHERE, is suspect.

And for those who claim this just reflects the AC's beat -- Columbia County law enforcement was interviewed for this story. But look at the RC v. CC quotes: they make it look as though the missing data is just RC's problem, which is false.

GnipGnop
12467
Points
GnipGnop 07/26/14 - 02:25 pm
4
0
Sure you can skew them...

I can go to a predominantly democratic section of a district and survey 100 people and come up with a liberal decision even if the totality of the district is republican. There are lots of ways to skew statistics with out telling lies. One only has to read the comments sections here to see it daily...

Gage Creed
17863
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Gage Creed 07/26/14 - 02:37 pm
2
0
HUH?

"The homicide rate hasn't changed May of this year if I remember correctly.. There's 10 homicides through July of this year which is lower than 11 in 2014..."

BTW.. Were(sic) in 2014

I understand a typo..but you seem to be okay with 10 homicides? Tell us about how many shootings... You know, the ones where the victim is shot in the thigh, leg, etc...

burninater
9684
Points
burninater 07/26/14 - 02:43 pm
1
3
GnipGnop, in your example

GnipGnop, in your example your sample would not be random. If it was not disclosed that the sample was not random when the results were reported, then the statistics would be misrepresented. Anyone who claimed the statistics were representative of the population generally would be lying.

Again, it is not statistics that lie. It is people who attempt to deceive you about what was being measured. That is why you should focus on polling by reputable groups, or on peer-reviewed reporting of statistical data. If you're just seeing it on a blog with no links to the original, credible source, then yes, you should take caution.

GnipGnop
12467
Points
GnipGnop 07/26/14 - 06:33 pm
6
0
I don't believe in polls or statistics...

I would rather make up my own mind rather than have some person tell me what I should believe, how I should feel or who I should vote for...

dichotomy
34479
Points
dichotomy 07/27/14 - 09:35 am
2
2
All I know is that when

All I know is that when someone shot my house and car with a shotgun and I called Sheriff's department dispatch, nobody came out and investigated or took a report. Was that a "crime" or not.

I personally do not believe crime is down under Roundtree. I think what is "down" is number of crimes being responded to by the Sheriff's department. No response...no report taken....no crime.

Like the commercial says...."just like it never happened". That is what we have now with the hype surrounding Roundtree. No response....no report.....no crime. You know, it would not take very much collusion at all between the sheriff and the director of 911 to "reduce" reported crimes. Just what kind of guidelines have the 911 dispatchers been given as to when they will send a deputy to respond to a call? If having your house and car shot with a shotgun is not a reportable "crime", just what the hell IS a crime? If they don't dispatch a cruiser out, even the deputies don't know a crime has been reported. Much less the drooling infatuated public.

hoptoad
13973
Points
hoptoad 07/27/14 - 09:42 am
2
1
One of my buddy's house has

One of my buddy's house has been broken into 3 times. He lives in West Augusta. The first time he reported it, the RC police responded and wrote up a report but informed him it would probably be a waste of time and that, most likely, the thieves would not be found and probably none of his belongings would be retrieved. The cops were right, none of his belongings were located or at least, not returned to him.

So the last two times his door was kicked in and his house ransacked, he didn't bother to call the police. Of course, by then he had very little worth stealing - he just had to spend a small fortune to have his door and door jamb replaced.

With his new approach to this problem, I don't think anyone will be breaking in again. BTW, these all occurred before Roundtree took office.

Old Augusta
321
Points
Old Augusta 07/27/14 - 12:50 pm
2
0
Augusta/Richmond Co has a long track record of covering up

When you look those national lists of most dangerous cities, you will notice cities that are very similar to Augusta. Then if you look up the crime in those cities and compare with Augusta, you will scratch your head and wonder how the heck Augusta didn't land on that list but Columbia, Macon, Albany, Florence, Savannah, etc,etc did. Here's the answer. Augusta doesn't report the figures. The last list even had it printed at the bottom of the page the seven cities that DID NOT report statistics and Augusta was one of the cities listed. This is not my opinion, this was a fact written at the bottom of the last 50 most dangerous cities list based on crime statistics. The fact that we skewer our statistics and we are still not even reporting our white washed figures is pretty bad.One of the cities that was on the list pretty high, actually had half our homicides. As much as I love our city and I hate to say it, but AUG would have been top ten most dangerous or at least knocking on the door. Everyone in the know either knows this or has their head in the sand. Anyone with any common sense knows that the entire South Side all the way from Peach Orchard to Wrightsboro RD down to 15th street is one giant ghetto. If we stay in denial, then we will never fix our problems. It just keeps growing and now Boy Scout road hast turned section 8 and ghetto. The Hill area is now completely surrounded by Ghetto on all sides and it makes me sick!

dichotomy
34479
Points
dichotomy 07/27/14 - 02:34 pm
1
0
"Anyone with any common sense

"Anyone with any common sense knows that the entire South Side all the way from Peach Orchard to Wrightsboro RD down to 15th street is one giant ghetto."

I present you the Consolidation Master Plan. It worked just like they planned it.

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