Yesterday, the Gardai released “the Garda public attitudes survey” – essentially a very large and detailed opinion poll about crime and policing in Ireland, conducted for the Gardai by the well-known opinion-polling company Behaviour and Attitudes. The full survey, should you wish to read it, is here.
One of the things that it is important to do, I think, is to always look for data that says that you might be wrong about something. In this case, the Garda survey suggests that those of us who feel as if crime in Ireland is as bad as it has been in a long while…. Might be wrong. In at least some respects:
While perceptions of national crime as being ‘a very serious’ or ‘serious’ problem have increased by 3 percentage points since 2021, to 73 percent, this is still lower than in 2019 (78%). In 2022, the percentage of respondents who perceived local crime as being ‘not a problem’ (45%) continued to be higher than in 2018 and 2019 (31% and 32% respectively).
Consider that data: People in Ireland are more likely now than they were two years ago to say that national crime is a problem. And at the same time they are more likely to say that local crime is not a problem. So, they’re experiencing less crime locally, but perceiving more nationally.
Does that mean the whole thing is overblown? Yes, and no.
We’ll start with “no”.
In the part of rural Tipperary where yours truly lives, crime is definitively not a problem. Like many rural people, yours truly is signed up to local garda alerts and community alert and all the other well known rural policing networks. Once in a blue moon, we get a text report of a van acting suspiciously, or something like that – and many of these, presumably, are the result of people with over-active imaginations. Actual crime here is very low-level, if not extinct.
And yet that does not mean that national crime is not a problem: It may simply be, as I’ve written here before, that people tend to flee the worst areas. There aren’t many people, these days, queuing up to live on O’Connell Street.
What’s more, crimes do not only concern us if they happen locally. Just think of the national reaction, last year, to the horrible murder of Aisling Murphy. We are sensitive to, and concerned about, national crime, even if it does not affect us directly. There’s also another issue, which is that the kind of crime matters just about as much as its frequency: If Dublin was chock-full of pickpockets (like some other European Cities) this probably wouldn’t concern us as much as the violent attacks on tourists that we’ve been seeing: Sending someone home without their wallet is embarrassing, but it doesn’t make us feel as bad as sending them home without an eye.
So that’s the case for dismissing those poll figures above.
There’s another side to it, though: Because if the vast majority of us are saying that crime where we live is low, and not an issue for us, then that does suggest that at least some of the criticism of the Gardai is misplaced.
Consider also, the following:
The majority of respondents were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘quite satisfied’ with Garda service to their local communities (75%). This has been showing a downward trend since 2018 and 2019 – 80 percent in both years, and 78 percent in 2021. As seen in previous survey sweeps, as views of national and local crimes’ seriousness increased, satisfaction levels decreased – a relationship that is pronounced at local level.
Three quarters of us are satisfied with the performance of our local gardai. And while the Garda narrative about a small fall in that trust level is obviously a self-serving explanation (good local guards getting unfairly blamed for national crimes) it does contain an undeniable grain of logic to it: After all, why else would satisfaction with the gardai locally be falling amongst the same people who mostly say their local areas are safer now than they were two years ago? The only logical explanation is the one the cops provide themselves.
Anyway, my own position on this is that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a bit of a national panic about crime, even if it is perhaps the teensiest bit overblown: If it takes a bit of overstatement to get political attention on making our cities safer, then that is overstatement in a good cause.
At the same time, though, it is always important to look at all the data, and not just those data points that confirm you in the thoughts you sort of wanted to have, anyway.