Tuesday, July 15, 2008

BOCARS stats on malicious damage

I decided to dig into the "malicious damage" stats to see exactly what they include, and how our Council area stacks up.  The graph below shows the reported stats for Canada Bay since 1995, broken down by month.  I have added the red trend line because I like red trend lines with a 5 month moving average.

What to make of this graph?

Well, the stats are neither markedly up nor down.  Around 40-50 incidents are being reported each month.

I did some more digging on the BOCARS site and found the following reading:

This one on Aspects of Malicious Damage from 1992 treats graffiti as a trivial offense - almost an afterthought.  Most of the focus back then was on damage to cars - scratching paint and that sort of thing.

A report from 2000 on Graffiti in NSW shows that thinking about graffiti had shifted between 1992 and 2000, with residents becoming more concerned about it.  The report makes it very clear that very few graffiti incidents are reported to Police - it noted that only 74% of break and enter offenses where something is stolen are reported to Police.  A survey at that time found that only 26% of residential vandalism was reported to Police.  Canada Bay Council didn't exist back then, since it is a more recent merger of Drummoyne and Concord Councils.

The report includes a table of graffiti incidents per 100,000 people, and Concord was ranked 21st worst in the state, and Drummoyne 57th.

A report on Recent Trends in Recorded Incidents of Graffiti came out in early 2006.  The report starts with this snippet:

In early 2006, the Premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, stated that “Graffiti is not art, it’s vandalism and it’s an offence” and that “The total cost across NSW for cleaning up this so called ‘art’ runs into tens of millions of dollars”

Despite the considerable concern that exists in the public domain, there is little in the way of official statistics to measure the incidence of graffiti. This is primarily because the offence of graffiti is not well represented in the available data sources due to low rates of reporting.

The report has this wonderful summary of how the courts have dealt with vandals in the recent past:

In New South Wales a person can be charged under the Crimes Act 1900 for maliciously damaging or destroying property. This is a common offence in the NSW Local Courts, with over 9,000 charges finalised in 2004. This offence category is not, however, exclusive to graffiti offences. 

For this reason it is also useful to examine prosecutions under the Summary Offences Act 1988. 

There are three graffiti specific offences under this legislation; wilfully marking premises by chalk/paint without consent, wilfully damaging property by spray paint and possessing spray paint with intent to wilfully damage property. 

In 2004, 20 charges of wilfully marking a premises with chalk/paint were finalised, while 65 charges were finalised for spray can offences (30 charges for wilfully damaging property by spray paint and 35 charges for possession of spray can with intent). 

Seventy-one of these charges (84%) were proven and where it was the offenders’ principal offence the most frequent penalty imposed was a fine. 

No charges were finalised in New South Wales in 2004 for selling a spray paint can to a minor.

It should be noted however, that these charges only include graffiti offences brought before the Local Courts. These matters are also dealt with in the Children’s Court if the alleged offender is a juvenile (the Bureau does not currently hold data on appearances before the Children’s Courts). Given that a large proportion of identified offenders are under the age of 18, this could account for the relatively low number of charges being brought before the courts.

This report includes a table of graffiti incidents per 100,000 and Canada Bay is in 8th spot (as in 8th worse) with 255.5 per 100,000.  The top spot went to Newcastle, but that was because:

Note that in the Newcastle LGA there was an unusually large spike in the number of graffiti incidents recorded in March 2005. This increase was due to a joint operation between the NSW Police and the Local Council in that area which attempted to assess the current level of graffiti in the Newcastle CBD at one point in time. 

So there has been an attempt to map graffiti at a point in time, but I can find no evidence of any attempts since then.

The final report, from late 2006, is on Malicious Damage to Property Offences in NSW.  This one ranks Canada Bay at 122 out of 156 councils for reported malicious damage, with 673 offenses in 2005.

The report starts by noting:

it is likely that particular types of malicious damage offences, such as graffiti, are underrepresented. It is probable that serious matters are more often reported to police. Similarly, some locations, such as schools or hospitals, may have a policy of reporting all incidents to police and will occur disproportionately more in police records. For these reasons, care should be taken when interpreting the statistics reported in this bulletin.

The report also states that:

The most common targets of malicious damage were private dwellings (29.0% of all cases), including houses, blocks of units, and surrounding private property. Other frequent targets included private vehicles, which comprised 27 per cent of all targets, and commercial buildings such as shops and offices, which comprised 18 per cent of targets. A smaller proportion of incidents targeted schools, public buildings and facilities, commercial and public vehicles and other types of property

The most common targets of graffiti damage were commercial buildings (28.8%) and schools (23.1%). It is possible, however, that variations in the incidence of graffiti across different locations may reflect differences in reporting behaviour by owners rather than differences in the incidence of these offences (Williams & Poynton 2006).7 Similar to malicious damage incidents in general, the majority of graffiti offences may not be reported to police, therefore trends may be more indicative of factors such as insurance policies and damage response procedures across target types rather than actual patterns of offending.

This is pretty much the reverse of the Council stats, which just goes to show the level of under reporting by residents and businesses.

An interesting finding, which is at odds with the other reports is that:

The fact that many alleged offenders were under the age of 18 corresponds with findings that malicious damage incidents frequently occur between 3pm and 6pm, which is after school ends.

This summation is the best part:

Initiatives focussed towards increasing awareness of malicious damage offences within the local area may also serve to reduce opportunities for offenders. 

Another important preventative measure involves rapid restoration of the damage caused. It has been suggested that evidence of malicious damage motivates people to fear and consequently avoid an area, which in turn provides greater opportunities for offenders to commit further malicious damage. 

As such, rapid restoration of damage may serve to further discourage opportunistic offending by increasing patronage of the area. 

Rapid restoration may also have a beneficial effect in reducing the incidence of offending by diminishing the perceived benefits associated with the crime (such as prolonged display of graffiti).

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