18/06/2012 01:10 (334 Day 19:35 minutes ago)
The FINANCIAL -- To anyone who pays attention to the world of criminology, Georgia is a well-known and remarkable case.
As recently as 2000, the government and organized crime competed for control over and trust of the citizens, gunshots could be heard in the street, and the police were as likely to take bribes as investigate crimes.
In barely one decade, organized crime has vanished, bribery is almost unheard of, and Tbilisi is the safest capital city in all of Europe.
While there is some concern over the methods used to achieve such a transformation, namely high conviction rates and draconian punishments for virtually every crime, it remains the pride of the Government of Georgia and the Ministry of Justice. While pride may be warranted, the data discussed below show that there are still some areas for improvement.
In the spring of 2012, Georgian Opinion Research Business International conducted the most recent wave of the Georgia Crime and Security Survey. This now annual survey, funded by the EU, seeks to give policy makers at the Georgian Ministry of Justice, as well as the international aid community, an in-depth picture of crime, drug use, and public opinion on policy and safety. By looking at collected data, we can see confirmation that Georgia is indeed a very safe place.
Victimization -- Each of the respondents was asked if they had been the victim of any crime in the last 5 years. By combining instances of ten separate categories of crime (car theft, burglary, sexual assault, etc), we have a number with which we can describe the overall level of victimization in a country. This year, only around 6% of Georgians reported having been the victim of one of these crimes in the last half decade. For comparison, 50% of respondents in England (which includes Wales for all data in this article) reported being a victim.
It’s important to note that the data that were available for this article are not perfectly comparable; the Georgian data are from 2010-2012, whereas the other European data are from 2005. This makes the numbers somewhat misrepresentative, as crime has gone down slightly in most of these countries in recent years. They are meant only to draw a general comparison, and the difference is so large that the main points of discussion are unaffected.
Silence -- For years, criminologists relied on data collected by the authorities to run analyses and discuss the successes and failures of public policies. Unfortunately, this limited the discussion to only crimes that were reported by their victims. In countries with corruption or inept police, people are less likely to report crimes and sometimes seek resolution elsewhere. In the 1990s, Georgia was a perfect example of a country where people avoided a corrupt police force and instead sought adjudication and protection outside the government, from thieves in law – Georgia’s organized crime bosses.
Adopting the use of victimization surveys cured most of this blindness, and we can get a more complete picture of crime by asking the citizens themselves. In doing so, we’ve discovered that even though thieves in law have been eradicated as a civil body and petty corruption has been eliminated, Georgians still report significantly fewer crimes to the police than the rest of Europe.
I’ve selected four crimes that display this disparity clearly. In the last three years, Georgians reported less than half of the crimes committed against them. In 2010 and 2011, the chart shows reporting rates for assault were higher than average, but this is likely because the European surveys and the most recent Georgian survey combined threats and assaults in the same question. Threats are presumably reported far less frequently.
To try and uncover explanations for reporting rates, this survey asks respondents why they did not report crimes. There were many options given, and in most cases Georgian responses were comparable to the rest of Europe, but I’ve included four answers in which Georgians differed by greater than 5%. Notice that virtually no Georgians felt the police would be uninterested in their plight, while 20% of Europeans did. They were also much less likely to feel the victimization wasn’t serious enough to warrant reporting. Georgians were more likely to feel they needed more evidence to justify reporting, though.
These data don’t show a Georgian population that claims to distrust its police force. In fact, over 90% of Georgians said police performance was “good” or “fairly good.” This is one of the unfortunate vagaries of opinion polling: what respondents claim to think and what they actually think are not always the same. In cases where social pressures can influence a response, they can be wildly different.
So, to approach this question from another angle, respondents who did report their crime to the police were asked how satisfied they were with the process. Here we find an alternative explanation for underreporting: Georgians are much less satisfied with the reporting process than those countries where reporting is higher. Again, for 2010 and 2011, threats were not included with assaults, which may explain the inconsistent numbers.
The Government of Georgia and the Ministry of Justice have been advised by expert criminologists, such as Dr. Jan van Dijk, to take steps to increase reporting rates in the coming years. Which policies will be successful in solving the problem remains to be seen, but once steps are taken it will be possible to gauge their effectiveness each year with the continued help of the EU and GORBI.
3000 Georgians were included in this poll. All non-Georgian data in this article are from 2005, and England includes Wales. Polls of this sort have a general margin of error of 3-5% at a 95% confidence interval, though it can be higher with smaller sub-populations.