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This report will analyze an article that cites false data on the rise in crime rates in Northern Ireland. Since most people tend to trust statistics, fake news often uses fictitious numbers for various manipulative purposes. The report will provide real PSNI data and compare it with the information presented in the article. An analysis of the PSNI report will also be carried out. The report will also evaluate how fully the PSNI report reflects the crime situation in Northern Ireland and the reliability of this information.
The article’s title states that the rate of violent and drug-related crime has risen dramatically in Northern Ireland. Michael O’Sullivan notes, “according to the PSNI, the number of violent crimes has doubled in the past year, and the number of cases of violence without injuries has increased by 80%.” The author also cites the opinions of residents who are concerned about the situation. Then O’Sullivan cites fictional statistics about a record fivefold increase in rape, as well as a threefold increase in “other sex crimes.”
The author does not stop these frightening statements but goes even further. He argues that crime rates have risen in ten of the twelve police districts, with the highest increases in Lisburn & Castlereagh City, and Antrim, and that an increase in crime has also been recorded in Belfast. At the same time, Derry and Armagh City “saw a decrease in crime.” O’Sullivan then addresses drug-related offenses and stresses that drug trafficking and possession have also “grown sixfold in the last year.” Finally, to create the illusion of objectivity, the author gives comforting “statistics” that the level of such crimes as criminal damage, burglary, and public order offenses has decreased.
The article, written by Michael O’Sullivan, is based on false information. In particular, the provision of incorrect information begins with a headline that speaks of an unprecedented rise in violent and drug crimes in Northern Ireland. The graph presented in the PSNI 2018/2019 report, published on November 8, 2019, reflects that since 2015 knife and sharp instrument crimes have decreased by about 20% and have grown by 2-3% compared to 2018 (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 24). Simultaneously, drug-related crimes did increase, but only by 9% compared to 2018 and by 21% compared to 2015 (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 40). In contrast, O’Sullivan stated that drug trafficking and possession increased six times in 2018/2019.
But these are not the only inconsistencies; further, the author provides incorrect data on the growth of violent crimes by 100%. In fact, according to PSNI data, from 2018 to 2019, the level of crimes resulting in actual bodily harm and grievous physical harm increased by no more than 3% (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 24). The author also stated that in 2018/2019, the crime rate increased in 10 out of 12 police districts, among which Lisburn & Castlereagh City and Antrim were leading and indicated that the crime rate increased in Belfast.
However, according to official statistics, the rate of total crime in East, North, South, and West Belfast remained at the same level, with a slight increase within 1-2% in South and North Belfast, and a slight decrease within 1-2% in East and West Belfast (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 42). However, there was a steady increase of 5% in Lisburn & Castlereagh City in 2018/2019 compared to 2017/2018 for the second year in a row (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 43).
According to PSNI, a slight increase in total crimes in 2018/2019 was also observed in Antrim & Newtownabbey (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 45). Besides, O’Sullivan noted that Derry and Armagh City saw a decrease in crime, which is close to the truth since, according to PSNI, the crime rate in these geographic areas remained at the same level with a slight decrease within 1% (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 43).
Finally, the author made a frightening statement about the increase in rape fivefold. According to official statistics, the rate of sex crimes has risen dramatically. The PSNI report notes that “the level of sexual offences in 2018/19 is more than three times the lowest level recorded in 2000/01” (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 13). Compared to 2017/2018, there was an increase of 5% (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 13). These data reflect not only rape but other sexual crimes such as harassment and intimidation.
However, in 2018/2019, more than 3,500 sexual offences were recorded in Northern Ireland, including more than 1,000 rapes and almost 1,500 sexual assaults (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 13). The report also states that “the number of rape offences has shown an increasing trend since 2000/01 with the level recorded in 2018/19 more than four times that recorded in 2000/01; the largest single increase occurred between 2013/14 and 2014/15” (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 14). Notably, from 2014 to 2019, the level of all sexual offences also doubled. Besides, from 2000 to 2014, there was only a slight increase.
O’Sullivan was probably familiar with the real statistics, as he gave a truthful message that the level of such crimes as criminal damage, burglary, and public order offences has decreased in 2018/2019. According to PSNI, this is true: since 2015, the level of public order offences has continued to decline steadily by 5-6% per year. The burglary, robbery, and theft rates also dropped significantly from 35,000 to 30,000 reported cases from 2015 to 2019 but remained flat compared to 2017/2018 (Trends in police recorded crime, p. 39). The level of criminal damage decreased from 20,000 in 2015/2016 to 16,000 in 2018/2019 but slightly reduced compared to 2017/2018.
O’Sullivan uses editorial techniques such as citing residents’ opinions and highlighting the most important “data” in the form of leads to create a sense of believability. The article contains other frightening statistics, probably aiming to intimidate the population and distract attention from more pressing problems. Such fake news is often paid for by corrupt politicians to offer themselves to the community as heroes promising stability and security. Besides, this kind of information can be ordered by sponsors of paramilitary groups to reduce trust in the police and state institutions. Data can also be deliberately distorted to divert attention from the real increase in crime by mixing true and false information.
Interestingly, according to Vossler et al. (2017), the media often misrepresent mental health and crime issues. The purpose of a false presentation of information is to stimulate the reader’s interest and captivate the audience with the spectacularity of the topics presented. Particularly remarkable is how the media portrays crimes committed by people with mental health disorders (Vossler et al., 2017). However, in the presented article, the distortions of truth are so substantial and conspicuous that it can hardly be considered a common journalistic mistake associated with the desire to write more exciting news or reports. Instead, likely, such blatant distortions were deliberately made to evoke a response in society.
Discussion of the Police Report
The presented police report provides comprehensive statistical information on crimes committed in Northern Ireland from 2000 to 2019. The report separately presents crimes related to violence, drugs, sexual offences, crimes committed against minors, and offences related to property. The information is presented in graphs, where the period, the number, and the type of crimes are recorded. The report also includes diagrams showing the types of crimes belonging to one particular group, such as violent offences or sexual offences. The report also contains graphs showing the increase or decrease in crime in various police districts in Northern Ireland.
These are areas of Belfast, Lisburn & Castlereagh City, Ards & North Down, Newry, Mourne & Down, Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon, Mid Ulster, Fermanagh & Omagh, Derry City & Strabane, Causeway Coast & Glens, Mid & East Antrim, and Antrim & Newtownabbey. All data presented in the report are reliable, as these are official data posted on the Police Service of Northern Ireland website. The information is also backed up by explanations of how the data was collected, what methodology was used to analyze it, and what goals were pursued by the scientists who analyzed the data. Thus, journalists can refer to the report’s information and use it as a reliable source.
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Thus, the report presented an analysis of the made-up article on the unprecedented rise in crime rates in Northern Ireland. First, an article summary was given, which listed the main statements of the author. A critical analysis of the article was carried out, based on a comparison of the author’s data and the real data presented in the PSNI report. According to the analysis, the article is based entirely on fictitious statistics and represents misleading information. The purpose of publishing such an article could be to stimulate the reader’s interest in the topic of crime. However, since the discrepancies between the data presented in the article and the real data were excessively huge, it can be assumed that the purpose of this publication could be to destabilize the situation in society and incite panic.
Trends in police recorded crime in Northern Ireland 1998/99 to 2018/19 (2019) Web.
Vossler, A, Havard, C, Pike, G, Barker, M & Raabe, B (eds.) 2017, Mad or bad: a critical approach to counselling and forensic psychology, Sage Publications, New York, NY.