The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has faced up to an embarrassing error, admitting that it ‘double-counted’ many drug busts over the past seven years.
It says statistics regarding arrests for cocaine and ecstacy detection have been inflated by more than 30%, while last year more than 13,000 drug events never actually occurred.
The error arose because BOCSAR was adding police statistics on searches to those on arrest – which is a fundamental mistake as both incidents can arise from a single event.
The mistake has meant that statistics about drug detections have been significant inflated, bolstering the argument that the war against drugs is even less successful than previously thought.
Does not affect trends
BOCSAR collects data which used to identify crime trends such as location, frequency, penalties and offender details.
While BOCSAR Chief Don Weatherburn admits the fault lies within his department, he says the actual figures are less important than the patterns they show.
“It is a large number, but the crucial issue is the trend with drug offences. I’m not saying this is not a bad mistake, but it doesn’t seem to have affected the trend from March 2012 to March 2018.”
Funding and policy decisions
BOCSAR data is one of the sources of information used to assess the level of funding for law enforcement in the war against drugs. More arrests and raids can lead to more funding, while a lower rate of success can make it more difficult to justify greater government expenditure.
Between 2010 and 2011, BOCSAR released crime numbers suggesting a larger numbers of detections than were the case.
Funding for drug detection dog operations, border force operations and enforcement generally has steadily increased since that time, partly based on the false premise that police are detecting high numbers of drug crimes.
And funding keeps rising. The NSW Government pledged a record $3.9 billion to the New South Wales Police Force in its 2018-19 budget, with a commitment to continuing sniffer dog operations and doubling roadside drug testing.
And while governments continue to take a hard line stance against drugs and spend big on policing and enforcement, those working in rehabilitation say there’s a major funding shortfall for much needed services for those suffering drug addiction. Many facilities are working with scant resources, particularly in rural areas, and yet there is mounting research to suggest that programmes are highly successful in helping users get their lives on track, and reducing re-offending.
Greens MP David Shoebridge has been a staunch and long-time campaigner against the use of sniffer dogs at events including music festivals. He says the double counting has raised questions about policy decisions, and that its ‘remarkable’ there isn’t a better cross-checking system within the NSW Police Force to pick up on the over-reporting.
“Year on year police have demanded additional resources to meet perceived crime levels with much of this perception based on data produced by BOCSAR. The war on drugs has never been winnable, and what we see from these recent numbers is that the NSW Police is having an even smaller impact on drug supply than many thought,” he remarked.
While BOCSAR has admitted its error, the fiasco points to the need for better auditing and analysis to ensure statistics are accurate and that governments and other bodies are properly advised, so that funding can be allocated and policies developed accordingly.
In the meantime, it seems police may need to work a little harder to justify funding for the war against drugs.