'Odd' crime stats valid say police

17:00, Apr 30 2011

OPPOSITION MPS are calling on Police Minister Judith Collins to explain "odd" declines in crime statistics.

Collins lauded police earlier this month after an announcement that recorded crime had fallen by 5.6% nationally.

Several of the high-volume police districts recorded large declines, including a 10% drop in Auckland, an 11% drop in Waitemata, and an 8% drop in Counties-Manukau.

A closer look at the statistics reveals sharp declines in certain offence types that Labour law and order spokesman Clayton Cosgrove has described as "odd".

"I talk to a lot of people. I don't talk to many people who think crime is going down. Suddenly we've got this in the middle of a recession?"

Nationally, fraud was the biggest mover, declining 27%. But that decline can be attributed overwhelmingly to the figures from two police districts.

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In Auckland, fraud reportedly declined 58% from 2009 to 2010 – from a five-year average of 3010 offences to 1437 in 2010.

Fraud also declined in Counties-Manukau by 45%. The declines in the two areas account for 70% of the national decline in fraud.

Auckland central CIB head Inspector Bruce Shadbolt said the decline could be attributed to a number of factors, such as banks providing better credit card security.

But it also involved more use of "representative charging". Previously, a fraudster who made 30 transactions on a stolen credit card would face 30 charges, but now he or she would face only one, with all the counts listed in an attached schedule.

But police development general manager Kevin Kelly, who is responsible for the statistics, rejected any criticism, saying they showed "an accurate picture of movements in recorded crime".

He said moves to representative charging had an effect on the statistics but "would not invalidate the downward trend".

In Auckland, offences against "justice procedures" also declined, by 43%.

One of the offence types, breaches of bail, declined from 969 in 2009 to just 196 in 2010 – a decline of 80%.

In Waitemata, breaches of bail declined by a quarter. The two districts account for nearly 60% of the national drop in breaches of bail.

Auckland police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty said the drop could, in part, be explained by the fact that as of early last year, those on bail were no longer required to report to police.

Police national statistics manager Gavin Knight said many breaches of bail, such as curfew violations, were formerly recorded as offences when they should have been recorded as "incidents". Education of frontline staff was resolving that.

The two big movers – fraud in Auckland and Manukau, and bail breaches in Auckland and Waitemata – account for 14% of the overall national drop in crime.

Cosgrove said if there had been a change in the formula of recording crimes, it should be explained to preserve "the integrity of the figures".

Kelly said: "The most important message is that crime last year fell in nearly every category, and all districts recorded reductions. It would be extraordinarily difficult to make any case that police somehow conspired to influence the way in which offences were recorded."

Collins did not return calls.

Sunday Star Times