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Definitions and explanatory notes for recorded crime statistics

Cautionary notes about crime data

These data consist of criminal incidents reported to police and recorded on the NSW Police Force's Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS). While this system is used for record-keeping for all police operations, not just for criminal matters, the Bureau only reports on criminal incidents.

Recorded crime statistics for some offence categories do not accurately reflect the actual level of crime in the community. This is because the number of incidents recorded may be affected by extraneous factors which are not easily measured. In particular:

  • Many crimes which occur are not reported to police and will therefore not be recorded - for example, a large number of assaults, sexual assaults and robberies are not reported to police.
  • Recording of those offences which are detected by, rather than reported to police, are strongly affected by policing practices - examples of these are drug offences, drink driving offences, offensive behaviour and receiving stolen goods. Recorded rates for such offences do not accurately reflect actual rates.
  • Sydney Local Government Area, and therefore Inner Sydney Statistical Subdivision, has high recorded crime rates because, compared with other regions, the resident population is small relative to the number of people in the area. In other words the area has a high user population which is not reflected in the denominator of the rate calculation.
  • Recorded crime rates in Local Government Areas with small population sizes are not always a good indicator of offending. Crime rates in areas with populations under 3,000 may be unreliable and should be interpreted with caution.

Recorded criminal incidents

The counting units are recorded criminal incidents rather than recorded offences (except for murder and manslaughter where the counting units are victims).
A criminal incident is defined as an activity detected by or reported to police which:
  • involved the same offender(s);
  • involved the same victim(s);
  • occurred at the one location;
  • occurred during one uninterrupted period of time;
  • falls into one offence category;
  • falls into one incident type (for example, ‘actual’, ‘attempted’, ‘conspiracy’).

One incident may involve two offenders assaulting the same victim. This would be recorded as one assault incident. Alternatively, suppose a man reports to police that he found his neighbour in the process of damaging his car and, when confronted, the neighbour assaulted him. For such an event, two criminal incidents are recorded because two distinct offence types are involved (malicious damage to property and assault) even though the same parties were involved at the same time and in the same place.

Recorded victims

For murder and manslaughter only, the counting units used are victims. Under the definition of a criminal incident (same parties, same time, same place, same offence and same incident type) one murder or manslaughter incident could involve two or more persons being killed. Because of the seriousness of these offences and their relatively small numbers, it is considered to be more appropriate to count the number of victims, rather than the number of criminal incidents. Hence, where one murder incident involves a person killing six people, six murder victims are counted.

Offence categories

The classification of offences is broadly based on the Australian Standard Offence Classification (ASOC) devised by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 2008, second edition, Cat. No. 1234.0).
For all types of offence classifications used, please see the Appendix of the latest NSW Annual Recorded Crime Statistics report. The original offence categories are those used by the NSW Police Force and do not necessarily correspond exactly with offences defined in legislation.

Major offence categories

Major offence categories include the most serious personal violence and property offences. The most serious of the violent offences is murder for which the incident count is the number of victims. Assault offences include the two major offence categories of domestic violence assault and non-domestic violence assault. Note that since 2008, the offence of assault police has been separately identified from the two major assault categories. All sexual offences are categorised by the two major offence types, either as sexual assault or indecent assault, act of indecency and other sexual offences. Robbery offences are divided into three categories by use of weapon as: robbery with a firearm, robbery with a weapon not a firearm or robbery without a weapon.

The serious property offences include the burglary categories of break and enter - dwelling and break and enter - non-dwelling, motor vehicle theft and steal from motor vehicle. Other theft offences included in the 17 major offences are steal from retail store, steal from dwelling, steal from person and fraud. The final property offence listed as a major offence is malicious damage to property.

Counting period

Criminal incidents are categorised by date of reporting to police (or date of detection by police) rather than by date of occurrence of the offence.

In most cases criminal incidents are recorded on COPS on the day of reporting. However there may be some time delay before the incident gains the status of accepted and verified (which are necessary conditions for inclusion in the crime data). It is therefore possible for some updating of data to occur. That is, data extracted for a specified period of time may differ according to the date of extraction of the data.

Proceedings against alleged offenders

Police may proceed against alleged offenders through a variety of legal or other processes. Most alleged offenders are referred to the NSW Criminal Courts. The more serious offences are dealt with by way of a Bail Court Attendance Notice (known as a Charge prior to July 2003) or a No-Bail Court Attendance Notice (known as a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) prior to July 2003). In these instances, the alleged offender is arrested, taken to a police station, fingerprinted and the details of the person and all charges are recorded. Alternatively a Field Court Attendance Notice may be issued by police at other locations. A Future Court Attendance Notice (previously called a Summons) is used for less serious offences. Due to the time lag between the incident being recorded and the Future CAN being issued, data for the last three months are likely to be low and subject to future revision.

Some alleged offenders are proceeded against but diverted from the criminal court system. For many minor offences police can issue Infringement Notices. By paying the prescribed penalty the offender avoids having to go to court. Under the Young Offenders Act 1997, a juvenile offender can be issued with either a warning, a caution or referred to a Youth Justice Conference.

A Youth Justice Conference is a face-to-face meeting between offenders, victims and their support persons. The offending behaviour is discussed and an outcome plan for the offender negotiated. Note that both the police and the courts can refer a young person to a Youth Justice Conference. However, the number of alleged offenders proceeded against by way of a Youth Justice Conference in the NSW Annual Recorded Crime Statistics reports include only police referrals to a Youth Justice Conference.

Each offender or alleged offender is counted only once for each event. Note that multiple criminal incidents may be associated with a single event. The processes are arranged in a hierarchy with the offender or alleged offender appearing in the most serious category where multiple incidents are involved. For example, if an event involves two incidents and the alleged offender is charged for one incident but receives a warning for the second incident, the alleged offender appears only in the relevant 'proceeded against to court' category.

Note that for offender police data, the year refers to the year in which the criminal incident or incidents were reported to police. For example, if an incident was reported to police in 2007 but the alleged offender was not apprehended and charged until 2010, the charge is recorded for 2007. Alleged offenders who are not legally proceeded against are not included in recorded crime data.

Regional statistics

Statistics are provided on the number of criminal incidents (victims for murder and manslaughter) recorded for each of the Statistical Divisions of NSW as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Within the Sydney Statistical Division, statistics are provided for Statistical Subdivisions. Statistics are provided for each NSW Local Government Area also.

Recorded criminal incidents which occurred in correctional, detention or remand centres, however, are not counted in the Statistical Division in which the incident occurred. The Appendices of the NSW Annual Recorded Crime Statistics reports provide maps indicating the location of each Statistical Division and Sydney Statistical Subdivision as well as the Local Government Areas (LGAs using the most recent boundaries) within each of the Sydney Statistical Subivisions and regional Statistical Divisions. Note that LGA boundaries and names change from time to time. A criminal incident is counted within a particular region when the location of the offence falls within that region.

For the rate calculations, population data are obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics publication: Regional Population Growth, Australia, Cat. No. 3218.0. If no population estimates are available for the latest year when the report/data file was published, rates for the latest year are calculated using previous years population estimates.

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Last updated: 1 August 2012
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