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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997  
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Contents >> Crime & Justice >> Crime Levels: Reported crimes

Crime Levels: Reported crimes

Police statistics indicate that, on a per capita basis, violent crimes tend to be more prevalent in the Northern Territory while Western Australia had the highest crime rates for property-related offences

Every day across Australia police record details of thousands of crimes. Offences may have been reported by a victim, witness or other person, or they may have been detected by the police. While many more crimes go unreported, or undetected, the information collected by police provides a valuable source of information for measuring the level of crime in Australia.


National crime statistics

National crime statistics relate to crimes that have become known to the police and for which details have been recorded in official crime reports. While individual police services have produced various forms of statistical reports from these sources, the ABS first published nationally comparable statistics in 1993.

Because of the diverse capacities of the statistical information systems used by State and Territory police services, a staged approach has been adopted in the production of national crime statistics. At this stage national data is not available for many victimless crimes such as those relating to drug offences and offences against public order. Efforts to compile such statistics, using uniform definitions and counting rules, are currently under way.

National crime statistics measure the number of victims (or premises, in the case of burglaries and related crimes) classified by offence categories. They do not attempt to measure the number of offenders or the number of offences. However, it is possible for a victim to be counted more than once. This can occur where the victim has been the subject of multiple offences during the one incident (such as kidnapping, rape and murder), in which case the victim would be counted for each offence; or of more than one incident during the year. For further details see National Crime Statistics (cat. no. 4510.0).

Nationally uniform police statistics are compiled using the ABS Australian National Classification of Offences (cat. no. 1234.0), and standard counting rules. Using these rules, responsibility for deciding how a crime will be recorded remains with individual police officers. While the ABS has made every effort to ensure that police statistics from the various jurisdictions are uniform and comparable, it is inevitable that differences will remain.


Crime rates by type of offence
National police statistics indicate that offences involving property (i.e. unlawful entry and burglaries, motor vehicle theft and other thefts) are far more numerous than offences involving direct conflicts between individuals (i.e. assaults, robberies, homicides, and kidnapping and abduction).

In 1995, property offences represented 88% of the 1.1 million crimes for which national crime statistics have been compiled. Offences involving the highest crime rates were unlawful entry with intent involving the taking of property (1,678 per 100,000), motor vehicle theft (703 per 100,000) and other thefts (2,713 per 100,000).

Of personal crimes, assaults were the most common, followed by robberies and sexual assaults. The crime rate for assault (560 per 100,000) was over six times higher than that for robbery (91 per 100,000) and almost eight times higher than that for sexual assault (71 per 100,000). Other crimes for which national statistics were available, such as homicides and kidnapping and abduction, were in comparison quite rare. Overall, police recorded 321 murders and 301 attempted murders in Australia in 1995, and 469 cases of kidnapping and abduction.

VICTIMS BY OFFENCE CATEGORY, 1995

Victims
Victims
Offence
no.
rate(a)

Murder
321
1.8
Attempted murder
301
1.7
Manslaughter
30
0.2
Driving causing death
314
1.7
Assault
101,149
560
Sexual assault
12,809
71
Kidnapping/abduction
469
2.6
Robbery(b)
16,466
91
    Armed
6,631
37
    Unarmed
9,835
54
Blackmail/extortion(b)
152
0.8
Unlawful entry with intent(c)
384,897
2,132
    Involving the taking of property
302,914
1,678
    Other
81,983
454
Motor vehicle theft(d)
126,919
703
Other theft(b)
489,785
2,713

(a) Victims per 100 000 people.
(b) Victims can include organisations as well as individuals.
(c) Victims are the places/premises entered.
(d) Motor vehicles stolen.

Source: National Crime Statistics, Australia (cat. no. 4510.0).


Reporting crimes to the police
Many crimes do not get reported to the police. For this reason, the measurement of crime rates from police statistics should be treated with caution. While the number of crimes not reported is difficult to measure, household based Crime and Safety Surveys, conducted in most States during 1995, show that level of reporting to the police varied widely according to the nature of the crime.

Taking the results (from each State) together, the surveys found that the rates of reporting for property crimes were high (93% for motor vehicle theft and 77% for break and enter offences). This may be related to the need to report crimes for insurance purposes. In contrast, reporting rates among victims of personal crime tended to be much lower. Only 34% of assault victims and 11% of sexual assault victims said they reported the last incident to the police.

The reasons for not reporting personal crimes vary according to the type of offence and are often complex. They can depend on the victim's perception of the seriousness of the incident, or perceptions that the police would or could not do anything. Fear of the perpetrator may also affect the decision whether to report a crime (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Victims of assault, and Violence against women).

On the whole, differences in reporting rates for a given offence across State and Territory jurisdictions tend to be minor. However, the effect of more substantial differences for a particular offence, where they occur, would be important in explaining different crime rates observed from police statistics. For example, if the proportion of assaults reported to the police in New South Wales was the same as that measured in Western Australia (that is, 41% instead of 30%), the assault rate in New South Wales (619 per 100,000 in 1995) may have risen by 200 or so extra cases per 100,000 population.

VICTIMS OF CRIME(a): PROPORTION WHO TOLD POLICE ABOUT LAST INCIDENT, 1995

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
ACT
Total(b)
Offence
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Personal crime
    Robbery
52.2
56.7
55.0
54.0
60.5
62.5
54.9
    Assault
30.4
33.2
36.5
38.5
40.9
31.6
34.2
    Sexual assault(c)
-
* *
* *
25.6*
-
-
10.8
Property crime
    Break and enter
73.5
76.5
77.6
81.5
80.3
87.8
76.9
    Attempted break and enter
31.3
37.4
28.6
32.7
31.2
38.1
31.7
    Motor vehicle theft
91.4
96.5
94.1
96.8
93.7*
100.0*
92.7

(a) Refers to persons for personal crimes and households for property crimes.
(b) The Northern Territory and Tasmania did not conduct a Crime and Safety Survey in 1995.
(c) Sexual assault questions were only asked of women aged 18 years and over.

Source: Crime and Safety, NSW and ACT (cat. no. 4509.1); Crime and Safety, Victoria (cat. no. 4509.2); Crime and Safety, Queensland (cat. no. 4509.3); Crime and Safety, South Australia (cat. no. 4509.4); Crime and Safety, Western Australia (cat. no. 4509.5); and Year Book Australia 1997 (cat. no. 1301.0).


State/Territory crime rates
National crime statistics show that crime rates varied considerably between Australia's States and Territories, and that no single State had the highest crime rate for all offence categories. New South Wales had by far the highest crime rate for robbery offences, but murder and assault were more prevalent in the Northern Territory while property crimes were more prevalent in Western Australia. In contrast, crime rates in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory tended to be below national rates for most offence categories.

It is possible to speculate about some reasons for these differences. For example, large cities tend to have higher crime rates, and some States have a large proportion of their population concentrated in large cities. States also differ in their demographic, ethnic and socio-economic profiles. However, other factors such as the level of policing activity and the way police record crimes may also be important1, as well as the differences in the proportions of victims who report the crime to the police.

CRIME RATES(a): CRIMES RECORDED BY THE POLICE, 1995

NSW
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
ACT
Aust.
Victims of selected offences
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate
rate

Personal crime
    Murder
1.7
1.4
1.8
1.5
2.5
1.3
12.7
0.3
1.8
    Assault
619
351
537
913
635
430
1,167
457
560
    Sexual assault
66
62
75
92
103
34
73
25
71
    Armed robbery(b)
62
17
27
25
39
13
10
26
37
    Unarmed robbery(b)
94
21
33
74
42
14
33
27
54
Property crime
    Unlawful entry with intent(c)
2,178
1,575
2,061
2,080
3,524
2,400
3,039
1,602
2,132
    Motor vehicle theft
762
650
561
677
1,032
476
588
512
703
    Other theft(b)
2,280
2,481
2,584
3,452
4,337
2,334
3,826
3,394
2,713

(a) Victims per 100,000 people.
(b) Victims can include organisations as well as individuals.
(c) Victims are the places/premises entered.

Source: National Crime Statistics, Australia (cat. no. 4510.0).


Offences

An offence (crime) is an act considered prima facie to be in breach of the criminal law. As laws vary considerably between States and Territories, grouping of offences to provide national statistics has necessarily involved the use of broad definitions. For further details see National Crime Statistics (cat. no. 4510.0).

Property crimes

Unlawful entry with intent involves entry of a dwelling or other premises in order to commit an offence. An offence includes theft, property damage as well as any offence against a person.

Other theft includes offences involving the taking of another person's property: but without force, or threat of force, and without having gained unlawful entry to any structure.

Robbery

Robbery is the unlawful taking of property, without consent, under confrontational circumstances from the immediate possession, control, custody or care of a person accompanied by force or threat of force or violence and/or by placing the victim in fear.

The distinction between some forms of unarmed robbery and theft can be a fine one. It is possible that some State police services record some types of theft as robberies (and vice versa). This means that comparisons between States of unarmed robbery crime rates and theft crime rates may be affected.


Property crimes
Western Australia recorded the highest crime rates for all property-related crimes. In 1995 the reported rate for unlawful entry with intent in Western Australia was 3,524 per 100,000 population, which was 65% above the national rate (2,132 per 100,000). Western Australia also recorded the highest rates of other thefts and motor vehicle thefts, with rates 60% and 47% above the national rate respectively.

The Northern Territory recorded the second- highest levels of unlawful entry with intent (3,039 per 100,000) and of other theft (3,826). However, the second-highest rate of motor vehicle theft was in New South Wales (762 per 100,000).

In contrast, States with the lowest crime rates for property-related crimes were: for unlawful entry with intent, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory; for motor vehicle theft, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory; and for other theft, New South Wales and Tasmania.

Personal crimes
Assault was by far the most commonly reported personal crime in all States and Territories. In 1995, the highest rate of assault was recorded in the Northern Territory (1,167 per 100,000); this was twice the national rate (560 per 100,000). As most assaults occur among young people (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Victims of assault), the high prevalence rate in the Northern Territory is related to its young age profile. The second-highest assault rate was recorded by South Australia (913 per 100,000), followed by Western Australia (635 per 100,000). Victoria (351) recorded the lowest assault rate per 100,000 population.

Murder rates can fluctuate greatly from year to year because of the small numbers involved. Even so, the Northern Territory has also recorded the highest murder rates in recent years, in accord with its high assault rates. In 1994 the murder rate was 6 per 100,000 and 13 in 1995. The Australian Capital Territory had the lowest murder rates, with 1 murder per 100,000 persons in 1994 and less than that in 1995 (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Murder and manslaughter).

Police statistics suggest that robbery rates (both armed and unarmed) were markedly higher in New South Wales in 1995 than in other jurisdictions. The armed robbery rate (62 per 100,000) was 70% higher than the national rate and the unarmed robbery rate was 73% higher. However, New South Wales robbery rates cannot be readily compared with those in other States because the system used to record robbery offences by New South Wales police services differs from those used by other police services. The offence- recording system used in New South Wales since 1994, includes trauma victims of robbery together with victims suffering financial loss.

South Australia had the second-highest overall (armed and unarmed) robbery rate (99 per 100,000), but a much greater proportion of the robberies involved unarmed offences. A further note of caution is required because some of the differences in unarmed robbery rates between States and Territories may arise from differing practices in classifying incidents of theft and unarmed robbery.

The highest rates of sexual assault (based on cases reported to the police) were recorded in Western Australia (103 per 100,000) and South Australia (92 per 100,000). The lowest sexual assault rates, on the other hand, were recorded in the Australian Capital Territory (25 per 100,000) and Tasmania (34 per 100,000). The differences observed between States and Territories should be interpreted with caution as differences in reporting rates might be responsible for the variations.


Endnotes
1 Indermaur, D. 1995, Violent Property Crime, The Federation Press, Sydney.

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