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Crime Stats Flap in UK

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Looks like crime is a major issue in the election campaign under way in Britain. Crime is notoriously difficult to measure, and some variation among different measures is par for the course, but the variations being thrown around over there are wild. Roland Watson has this story in Times Online (London).

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary,* said violent crime had risen 70% since 1998-99. He was taken to task by the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar (great name for a stats chief), who said a change in reporting methods produced a false bump. The British Crime Survey says violent crime dropped 41% in the last 12 years. Mr. Grayling then asked the House of Commons library to look into it, and they estimated a 44% increase.

In the U.S., we have one set of numbers compiled by the FBI of crimes known to police and another set taken by phone survey, the National Crime Victimization Survey. The two methods produce different numbers, but nothing like this.

The story does not say if these are UK-wide figures. In the cross-national research I have done, the numbers are usually for England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland tallying their numbers separately.

* The member of the opposition party designated to be the Home Secretary (the cabinet officer primarily responsible for law enforcement) if the opposition wins the election and takes over the government.

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As they say, there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

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