Making A Murder Go Away

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Chicago police figures report a drop of nearly 300,000 serious crimes in 1993 to just over 50,000 in 2013. Can we believe it?

In a recent special report, ”The Truth About Chicago’s Crime Rates”, Chicagomag.com investigates the somewhat shaky foundation for the city’s impressive drop in crime. The first part, published this Monday, reveals some jaw dropping reasons for this miraculous development. It tells a story about police officers and other officials working within the justice system who systematically re-label serious crimes into something less serious, or in some cases, completely writes them off as “noncriminal” investigations. The piece illustrates this madness with the story about Tiara Groves, a 20-year old girl, who was found tied up, gagged and murdered in an abandoned warehouse in Chicago. This was later ruled “noncriminal” because of the pathologist’s inability to explicitly state the cause of death (unspecified means).

Tiara warehouse

The warehouse where the body of 20-year old Tiara Groves was found

For us at the crime section of Nationmaster, this is interesting for a laundry list of reasons.

Imagine the implications. If murder rates can be manipulated like this, how can we at all be sure of statistics relating to crime? If the act of gagging, tying up and murdering someone can be considered “noncriminal”, how about battery and bicycle thefts? Crime statistics is to be taken with a healthy scepticism even without this kind of statistical abuse. But when these attempts to “sugar coat” your statistics also enters the picture, it undoubtedly gets harder still. Comparing crime statistics within a certain geographical area over time is usually more reliable than making grand statements based on the crime statistics reported by two different countries. With the Tiara Groves case in mind, why this is becomes painfully obvious.

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If you can make a murder go away, how about the less serious offences?

Crime statistics are already handled differently from country to country, and this kind of “dressing up” your numbers makes a comparison even sketchier. Also, changes in routines within a certain geographical area will cause numbers from one year to another to change, regardless of the actual trend and the physical reality. For example, changes in the willingness from the public to report crimes to the police, for whatever reason, and what types of crimes the police decide to focus extra resources on are two kinds of routines that generally have a heavy impact and can skew crime statistics over time. Murder rates have, however, traditionally been a steady rock for criminologists to cling to with regards to the truthfulness in the quantity reported. With these findings and revelations, this might have to be revaluated and more scrutiny might be needed even here.

Keep in mind, under- or over reporting different types of criminality can be very beneficial for certain groups within law enforcement. Getting patted on the back for a job well done (under report) or more funding (over report) might be just too alluring for certain individuals. The statistics we provide at NationMaster are to be interpreted with all these caveats in mind. Remember Tiara Groves.

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Torbjörn Holde

Torbjörn has a bachelor degree in Criminology from Stockholm University and has worked for 1 year at the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande Rådet). Torbjörn is based in Paris, France.

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