Was 2016 re­ally the worst year?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Jonathan Boyd THE VIEW FROM THE DATA

THERE WAS an ap­par­ent rise of 36 per cent in an­tisemitic in­ci­dents recorded in 2016 — a to­tal of 1,309 such in­ci­dents. It was, stated a head­line in this news­pa­per, “the worst year on record.” “It seems,” main­tained the JC, “that Jew hate is sim­ply be­com­ing more preva­lent and more open.”

Maybe. But not so fast. As the CST ac­knowl­edges, an­tisemitic in­ci­dent data should be read care­fully. Like all forms of hate crime data, they rely on peo­ple com­ing for­ward to re­port in­ci­dents when they oc­cur. So be­fore jump­ing to con­clu­sions about trends, one crit­i­cal ques­tion must be asked: has any­thing hap­pened around how in­ci­dents are re­ported or recorded that might ac­count for any change ob­served?

In the case of an­tisemitic in­ci­dent data, the an­swer is yes. Here’s why.

When an in­ci­dent oc­curs, vic­tims have a choice. First, they have to de­cide whether to re­port it or not. In most cases, they do not — ac­cord­ing to a 2012 EU study con­ducted by JPR, about seven in 10 in­ci­dents go un­re­ported. Thus, as is the case with ev­ery an­nual fig­ure, the 1,309 fig­ure is an un­der­count, con­sid­er­ably lower than the real count. Yet re­port­ing rates fluctu- ate, and the ev­i­dence sug­gests that ac­tive en­cour­age­ment through ad­ver­tis­ing and aware­ness-rais­ing yields pos­i­tive re­sults.

Se­cond, hav­ing cho­sen to re­port, vic­tims then have to de­cide to whom? The most ob­vi­ous op­tions are the po­lice and/or the CST. Un­til quite re­cently, th­ese two chan­nels had no es­tab­lished sys­tem of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion, so CST only recorded those counts re­ported di­rectly to them from vic­tims or wit­nesses. How­ever, to its credit, CST has signed sev­eral in­for­ma­tion shar­ing agree­ments with the po­lice since 2011: ini­tially, with in­di­vid­ual re­gional forces, and then, in 2015, na­tion­wide. So, now, as well as record­ing in­ci­dents re­ported di­rectly to them, CST also records in­ci­dents re­ported to the po­lice. This is a huge break­through in terms of ac­cu­rate record­ing, but from a sta­tis­ti­cal per­spec­tive, it con­sti­tutes a break from the past. Fig­ures pre­vi­ously based on in­for­ma­tion com­ing through one chan­nel are now based on two. Straight­for­ward com­par­isons of re­cent counts with those from pre­vi­ous years, par­tic­u­larly pre-2011, be­come im­pos­si­ble.

How­ever, even af­ter ac­count­ing for this fac­tor, 2016 still ap­pears to have been a no­tably bad year. Not the worst on record, but cer­tainly one of them. Yet there is an­other rea­son to ques­tion the “worst year ever” hy­poth­e­sis. It is very dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain em­pir­i­cally whether re­port­ing rates have im­proved over time, and if so, by how much.

The CST, again to its credit, has gone to great lengths to en­cour­age and fa­cil­i­tate in­ci­dent-re­port­ing in the com­mu­nity, with the sup­port of gov­ern­ment fund­ing. In 2016, the po­lice pro­moted re­port­ing es­pe­cially strongly, par­tic­u­larly in the af­ter­math of the ref­er­en­dum, and con­cluded that part of the in­crease in in­ci­dents recorded can be ac­counted for by a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of in­ci­dents re­ported.

Given th­ese in­ter­fer­ing fac­tors around the an­nual fig­ures, is it pos­si­ble to make any kind of as­sess­ment of the trend over time? To un­der­stand a trend, one needs a con­sis­tent data source. Ar­guably, the best one that ex­ists is in­ci­dents re­ported di­rectly to CST. Fo­cus­ing ex­clu­sively on th­ese, we see that they fluc­tu­ate year on year, but the trend since 2000 shows a slight in­crease of about 15 in­ci­dents per an­num. Bear­ing in mind all that CST has done over many years to en­cour­age and fa­cil­i­tate re­port­ing, it is dis­tinctly pos­si­ble that at least part of that rise can be ac­counted for by this fac­tor.

CST in­ci­dent data com­prise one of the most im­por­tant sources of in­for­ma­tion about an­tisemitism in the UK, and peo­ple who dis­count them of­ten have an­other agenda. Yet, with­out very care­ful as­sess­ments and ad­just­ments, the raw data should not be used to track trends. There are sim­ply too many in­ter­fer­ing fac­tors at play. For sim­i­lar rea­sons, in 2014, the UK Statis­tics Au­thor­ity re­moved “Na­tional Statis­tics” des­ig­na­tion from po­lice fig­ures based on recorded crime data be­cause, while ac­knowl­edg­ing their value, they con­cluded that they are “not suit­able for long-term trend anal­y­sis”.

What can be said, with a high de­gree of con­fi­dence, is that the counts CST re­ports nowa­days are much closer to the ac­tual num­ber of in­ci­dents that oc­cur in any given year than they used to be. But whether they demon­strate that 2016 was the worst year since records be­gan is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mat­ter, and de­mands much closer in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Com­par­isons of re­cent counts be­come im­pos­si­ble

Jonathan Boyd is Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search

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