Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Australian Homicide Rates: A Comparison of Three Data Sources

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Australian Homicide Rates: A Comparison of Three Data Sources

Article excerpt

In some countries, collecting statistics about the occurrence of homicide is not possible, either because of a lack of resources or because of the sheer volume of incidents. Fortunately in Australia there are three main data collection systems that produce largely independent sets of statistics on homicide: the National Homicide Monitoring Program at the Australian Institute of Criminology, and the Recorded Crime Australia and Causes of Death collections managed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. In line with the AIC's policy of constantly improving the quality of data and output, this paper provides a critical analysis of these data sources and also examines the degree to which they differ. It considers whether the differences have varied over time, and the reasons behind any differences observed.

Adam Graycar

Director

A country's rate of homicide tends to be viewed by criminologists as a relatively unbiased measure of its level of violence. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that the serious nature of homicide makes it the least likely of all offence types to be affected by the "dark figure" of crime- that is, offences that go unreported and undetected. As a result, homicide is more likely than any other offence to be the subject of specific data collection efforts. G? Australia there are three main data collection systems which produce largely independent sets of statistics on homicide: the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) at the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), and the Recorded Crime Australia (RC) and Causes of Death (COD) collections, both managed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

As noted elsewhere (see Mouzos 2002), a comparison of the three sources of national homicide statistics indicates that there is a large degree of variation in terms of the breadth of information collected, as well as the extent to which information is published and available to the public. The main variation exists in the sources of the data. Both RC and NHMP data are based on police offence reports, whereas the COD data are derived from death certificates. Given the differing origins of the data sources, the purpose of this paper is to provide a critical analysis of statistics derived from the three distinct data sources, and to examine the degree of divergence between the data sets and whether this has any bearing on the actual level of lethal violence in Australia.

Overview of International Literature

Most international research comparing various sources of homicide data has been undertaken in the United States, with the main focus on comparisons between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR), and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Vital Statistics. These comparisons have sought to determine the level of agreement between these two main sources of data on homicide in the United States.

One of the earliest studies was Hindelang's (1974) comparison of UCR murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates with NCHS homicide rates from 1935 through to 1970. He concluded that the agreement was "generally good. Indeed the similarity in the shape of the curves is striking" (p. 3). Cantor and Cohen (1980) undertook a more extensive investigation and analysed the agreement among eight timesseries compiled by the NCHS, UCR and the Office of Management and Budget. Their results indicated that the older data were less comparable, noting that the years prior to 1949 in the FBI times-series were not as accurate as the NCHS time-series. They therefore recommended that caution should be exercised when interpreting time-series results using the earlier years.

Riedel and Zahn (1985) also examined the amount of agreement between the FBI estimates based on Return A counts (which provide information at the aggregate level, without case-specific detail), SHR and NCHS counts of homicides. …

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