Letter: Crime, Caribbean-style: Lessons from St Vincent – Part 4

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Dear Sir:

In the previous crime essay, I raised the issue of whether the murder rate in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is globally high or low by comparing it to the murder rate in the United States of America. Such comparisons are important because if it turns out that SVG has a low global murder rate, trying to further reduce it may be futile. Conversely, if the murder rate is comparatively high, especially measured against similar countries, this would demand serious attention.

The same observations apply to other Vincentian crime rates.

But comparing a big and rich country like America to a minuscule and comparatively poor country like SVG is like comparing an elephant to ant: the huge number of differences between the two so overwhelm any similarities that their controlled examination and explanation is nearly impossible. It is far easier and scientifically defensible to compare objects, events, or places that have much in common so that the differences can be more readily enumerated and evaluated.

The data in Table 1 contains an enumeration of various crimes rates averaged over a five-year period in seven English-speaking Commonwealth Caribbean countries containing under 300,000 people and sharing a long history of plantation slavery based on the production of sugarcane and its byproducts. Each of these countries also shares a preoccupation with developing tourism, their single largest private-sector employer of labour and capital.

Table 1. Selected Reported Crimes and the Economy in Seven Caribbean Countries per 100,000 Population, 2012-2016

As was true for Table 1 in the previous crime essay, the data in this table need to be carefully qualified and interpreted:

  • Except for drug crimes, the figures refer only to reports made to or by the police. They do not reflect either arrests or convictions for criminal activity. As elsewhere in the world, many crimes, including sexual assault, other physical assault, and crimes against property are never reported to the authorities and so remain unrecorded.
  • Placing data for these seven countries in the same table implies that the reported criminal acts made to or by the police bear a close relation to the rate of actual crimes, arrest levels, and conviction results. Given the presence of nearly identical law-and-order systems in these states, this assumption seems reasonable but is nevertheless unproven.
  • The data do not include all types of crimes in these countries. Instead, they were compiled from figures collected by a section of the United States Department of State concerned with the safety of Americans travelling abroad. Hence, their preoccupation is with the types of crimes usually committed against holiday and business visitors. Accordingly, “total crimes” refer only to the crimes listed in the table.
  • It is also reasonable to assume that the most common crimes in these countries are property crimes: shoplifting, pickpocketing, damage to property, fraud, theft of animals and agricultural produce, burglary, and other forms of petty and large-scale theft. The only one recorded here is the violent crime of burglary. Still, the rate of burglary may be a proxy for overall property crime because most burglaries would be reported to the police.
  • Petty theft is not reported – presumably because it is not a crime of violence, the main concern of the US authorities — even though it is undoubtedly the most common crime in these countries and would likely adversely affect visitors as much as local persons.
  • Sexual assault includes adult rape but is far exceeded by the combination of statutory rape (coerced or forced rape of a person under the legal age of consent), incest, and indecent assault (for example, groping someone on their private parts). Again, a great deal of sexual assault never enters the official domain.
  • As elsewhere, murders (and shootings) represent a minuscule portion of all crimes in the seven countries.
  • The data on per capita GDP and unemployment were added from other sources.
  • Missing from this data is the inequality rate – the proportion of the population below the average level of wealth held by members of the society – a figure surely collected but rarely published by Caribbean governments. This is unfortunate because relative poverty (rather than absolute poverty or unemployment) has often been given as an explanation of crimes levels.
  • The crime level of countries ranked from high to low (with ‘1’ being the highest and ‘7’ the lowest) is shown by the bracketed numbers. It is indeed worrying that SVG ranks second in this sample in the rate of four different violent crimes: murder, sexual assault, robberies, and shootings. Still, a much larger sample would be needed from both the Caribbean and elsewhere to judge whether this is truly high by regional, hemispheric, or global standards.

With these considerations in mind, the data in Table 1 do not suggest that crime rates in SVG are extreme or unrepresentative. Even the comparatively high Vincentian murder rate in Table 1 was still 56 percent lower than the rate for St. Kitts and Nevis, a country more than twice as rich and with an unemployment rate nearly fourfold lower.

Looking elsewhere in the region, even the average of 28.4 murders per 100,000 people in SVG during 2012-2016 was seven times below the Jamaican average of 202 murders and five times below the Trinidadian average of 148 murders, respectively, per 100,000 population during the same five-year period.

While readers are invited to draw their own conclusions about the figures in Table 1, it is clear that: (1) the country with the most crime – Grenada – had the lowest murder rate; (2) the richest country – St Kitts and Nevis – had the highest murder rate; (3) the country with the most robberies – Antigua and Barbuda – had the lowest burglary and total crime rates; (4) the countries with the highest unemployment rates – Grenada and St Lucia – had the highest and second lowest overall crime rates, respectively; and (5) SVG was the second-most crime-ridden country next to St Kitts and Nevis.

As for the last point, the rank order of the countries in the list compiling the figures for their individual placement in each category of crime is: St. Kitts and Nevis (13); SVG (15); Dominica (25); Grenada (27); Antigua and Barbuda (28); Barbados (29); and St. Lucia (31).

But this differs significantly from their rank order considering only the per 100,000 population overall crime rate: Grenada (1); Dominica (2); SVG (3); St Kitts and Nevis (4); Barbados (5); St Lucia (6); and Antigua and Barbuda (7).

The discrepancy between these two listings is because of the high quantitative variation in the components of crime among the seven countries such that there was no good relation between the rankings of different types of crime within and between countries. All of this is more evidence that explaining the rate of various crimes even within a single country is a very difficult undertaking.

It is also more evidence that simplistically explaining the complex crime issue on economic grounds alone, including linking it directly to unemployment, as the opposition SVG New Democratic Party has repeatedly done over the years, is baseless which is why as far back as 2011 Hans King, Press Secretary to the Prime Minister of SVG, had to rightly rebuke the party for linking the murder rate to the country’s economic performance.

***

This is the fourth in a series of essays on crime and the economy in the Caribbean with special reference to SVG. The others are listed below:

  1. Crime, Caribbean-style: Lessons from St Vincent – Part 1
  2. Crime, Caribbean-style: Lessons from St Vincent – Part 2
  3. Crime, Caribbean-style: Lessons from St Vincent – Part 3

***
C. ben-David

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This so called ‘green verb’ writer was Airport Airport Airport the other day then he switched to Tourism, having proven wrong on both topics he gone to another topic now about crime. Lord please help these irrelevant people who want to be relevant.

  2. ADDENDUM: Please note that I somewhat inadvertently called “burglary” a violent crime because it is generally treated as a “felony” which is defined as a crime of violence.

  3. It would have been nice if you provided the source of your quantitative evidence. This surely would add to the credibility of your research, which likely could be a reference point. The effort is well noted though.

  4. We have known for some time that it is a nonsense to regard crime solely as a consequence of economic factors like unemployment. HOWEVER, certain other factors (like inequality) do closely correspond to high rates of violent crime specifically. It is unfortunate that the author’s research does not contain any references to inequality, including matters like access to free, high quality education and welfare.

    • The release of inequality data is hard to obtain for the Caribbean, even though the governments routinely collect it. I suppose they don’t want the public to know how much a gap there is between the super rich, well off, middle income, working class, and poor.

      Still, I’ve managed to locate some data for different years that I will post in a subsequent piece.

      Thanks for highlighting this important issue, one that is indeed correlated to differential crime rates but in way that most politicians don’t want us to know about because redistributing wealth and income would lead to a non-violent political revolt by those who possess much more than the average, the main financial supporters of all the political parties in the region.

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