Smart policing and safer streets start with better data; this is not the norm in India
Crime is a very big problem in India, as big a problem, according to a recent survey, as lack of employment opportunities, corruption and terrorism. Yet state and local governments have limited information on who is being victimised or when and where crime occurs. The official records on crime are insufficient to gauge the scale of the problem because of severe and widespread under-reporting. The correction of any malady requires accurate diagnosis of the disease; similarly, to address the problem of crime we must begin with better data.
IDFC Institute conducted a survey of 20,597 households in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai on crime incidence and safety perceptions for the period of a year. The survey, titled ‘Safety Trends and Reporting of Crime’ (SATARC) asked households whether they had been the victim of a crime in the past year, their experiences with the police, their perceptions of safety and about behavioural changes they may have made to avoid crime.
Theft was the most prevalent of the surveyed crimes across the four cities. About 8% of people in Delhi reported being a victim of a theft. The proportions were 4% in Mumbai and 2% in Chennai and Bengaluru. Yet only 6-8% of victims of theft lodged a first information report (FIR) with the police in the four cities. It is this fraction of cases that is finally reflected in the official records, leaving the remaining 92-94% unreported.
The official records undercount theft because less than half of victims approach the police and only a handful of those end up filing an FIR. In Delhi, 45% of theft victims approached the police of which 16% lodged an FIR. The proportions were 32% and 19% in Mumbai, 20% and 40% in Chennai and 18% and 42% in Bengaluru, respectively. The main reasons for not approaching the police, across the four cities, were lack of evidence, fear of being caught in police or court matters, the perception that the police may not entertain their complaint as well as the perception that the crime was not of a serious nature. The survey did not delve into the reasons for low FIR registration.
What the survey tells us is that the true rate of crime may be very high compared to official records. A low official crime rate may not necessarily mean a ‘lack of crime’. Instead, it may simply reflect a lack of faith that the police can or will do anything about the problem. This is a problem both for the victims and for the police. When victims don’t report, the police can’t effectively target and prevent crime. Victimisation surveys give the police a better understanding of crime and thus help to bridge the gap between the people and the police, benefitting both.
The survey also has good news. A large proportion of victims who lodged an FIR were satisfied with the police. Of those who registered an FIR, about 52% and 55% of the victims were satisfied in Delhi and Mumbai, respectively. These proportions were higher at 82% in Chennai and 70% in Bengaluru. The main reasons for satisfaction were attentiveness and promptness with which the police dealt with the situation. Dissatisfaction was primarily due to the long wait in registering the FIR or refusal from the police while registering the FIR. Survey findings can be used to bolster and reward such strengths, in addition to overcoming identified weaknesses.
The US and the UK created victimisation surveys in 1973 and 1982, respectively, while others like, Australia institutionalised annual crime surveys more recently in 2008-09. Many victimisation surveys, however, including the pioneering US survey, are only national in scope. The SATARC survey data done by the IDFC Institute is available at the police zone level so it can help the police to understand what crimes are occurring, against whom and where. The survey can be further improved by creating an annual one implemented locally throughout the country.
Such surveys complement official crime records by identifying crimes that are not reported to the police, recognising those most vulnerable to crime, evaluating people’s attitude towards the police and courts, and assessing the impact of crime on quality of life. Better policing and safer streets start with better data. Read the key findings from the survey here: http://bit.ly/2qAMQyB Neha Sinha, Avanti Durani and Rithika Kumar are, respectively, Assistant Director and Associates at IDFC Institute, a Mumbai based thinktank