In defense of the Ombudsbeing

Quico says: Human Rights Defender Gabriela Ramírez’s speech to the effect that what’s really out of control in Venezuela is the perception of crime fits the classic definition of a gaffe: an inadvertent expression of an impolitic truth. Maddening as it is to hear an official say something like that, Ramírez’s opinion is actually borne out by more evidence than you might think. Indeed, over the last 10 years, there’s been a clearly growing gap between people’s perception of insecurity and their reports on how often they – or their immediate families are – victimized.

Lets be clear here. There are three main ways you can measure crime. The first – the overall number of crimes reported to the police – is the least reliable, since it includes the most potential for bias, misreporting or underreporting. The second is murder statistics – which is more reliable than overall crime reported to the police since, as anyone who’s seen The Wire knows, you can report a felony assault as a misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but how can you make a body disappear?

You can’t, which is why, paradoxically, murder statistics are a more reliable proxy for overall crime than overall crime statistics.

But there’s a third way to measure crime: survey data. Take a sample of a few thousand people, and ask them how many times they – or their immediate families – have been victimized by crime in the last month. Survey data is subject to a lot less bias than overall police crime data, and because it asks about overall crime, rather than focusing only on murder, it’s arguably more reliable than murder statistics as a proxy for overall crime. (Though opinions differ on this score.)

The thing, in Venezuela, is that there is a gap between the second and third indicators. While murders have been rising fast in the last decade, self-reported victimization in surveys hasn’t been going up nearly as fast. Meanwhile, the perception of insecurity has been tracking the murder curve…which is well ahead of the self-reported victimization curve.

Which is all a way of expressing that, while certainly impolitic and arguably incomplete, Gabriela Ramírez’s speech wasn’t quite as entirely off-the-deep-end as some of the more excitable commentary would have you believe. It genuinely is true that people feel more and more unsafe, and that that feeling is growing at a speed that can’t be accounted for by the rise in the number of times they or their families become victims of crime.

[Note: all the data this post is based on comes from Latinobarómetro, which is behind a subscription firewall, so no – no links.]

Post 26 of 100. Steady as she goes.