31.07.2017

Queensland hopes independent office can restore confidence in crime stats


The Queensland government has established an independent Crime Statistics Research Unit to restore confidence after scandalous allegations undermined confidence in the figures coming out of the state’s police stations.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath announced $2.7 million had been budgeted to kick-start the new independent body, which will be part of the Queensland Government Statistician’s Office but remain independent, according to the minister.

Earlier this year, the auditor-general and the Queensland Police Ethical Standards Command investigated allegations that police officers were trying to manipulate the figures through various means, as reported by the ABC’s national investigative reporting team in January.

The audit found that in some cases, police were soliciting victims of crime to withdraw complaints and if they didn’t respond, taking that as a ‘yes’.

The first paragraph of the audit report’s conclusion section makes it clear that something had to be done to restore confidence:

“The Queensland Police Service has an unacceptable amount of crime data across the state that is incomplete, inaccurate, and wrongly classified. Contributing to this are officers’ poor understanding or use of data classification rules, poor guidance, inappropriate data classification practices and inadequate  assurance controls. As a result, reported crime statistics are questionable at best and unreliable at worst, and should be treated with caution.”

Commissioner Ian Stewart came out immediately and claimed the police had addressed all of the issues raised and corrected all “anomalies” found in the data, stressing that the report did not prove that every incorrect classification was deliberate. But the way forward was clear.

“The CSRU must be independent and transparent in order to have the trust and confidence of the Queensland public,” said D’Ath earlier this month.

“This model utilises existing QGSO staff and infrastructure while remaining independent. It moves responsibility for reporting criminal statistics away from criminal justice agencies to a recognised and already independent statistician’s office.”

By taking away some of their functions, the new office could actually be a boon for the police by supporting evidence-based policing through reliable research and data analysis to identify crime trends.

“The CSRU will undertake criminal justice research and data analysis, and report the information in a meaningful way,” said D’Ath.

“This reporting will play an important role informing public debate and aiding policy makers and administrators. Crime statistics inform public debate and the development of public policy, so it is essential that Queensland has a central authoritative source of data.

“We know there are no easy answers when it comes to reducing crime and addressing its underlying causes, but what is crucial is the availability of quality statistics and analysis. When developing policy to tackle crime, we want effective solutions which balance the need for rehabilitation, punishment and community protection.”

D’Ath pointed out that establishing the CRSU was not just a knee-jerk response to the recent controversy reported by the ABC and the auditor-general. It was also an election commitment, she said, and consistent with the recommendations of the 2015 Queensland Organised Crime Commission of Inquiry and last year’s Taskforce on Organised Crime Legislation.