No wonder we’re fearful amid crimes like the Lin killings
Ask an Australian if crime is getting worse, and most will say - wrongly - that it is. Crime in Victoria, state authorities reported proudly yesterday, is down 25 per cent over eight years.
Yet they also announced another 120 police would be put on Melbourne’s streets with new powers to search for weapons, because - at least in Victoria’s experience - crime is decreasing, but the violence isn’t.
The public perception that crime is on the rise is understandable when you hear the shock and disbelief ringing through the words of Brenda Lin, in messages to her murdered family at their memorial service in Sydney.
In a video message, the 15-year-old wondered aloud where her mother had gone and why she left. She mourned never getting the chance to say a proper goodbye.
The brutality of the Lin murders - the five victims, including two young boys, were bludgeoned to death in their home in the middle of the night - is among one of the most horrific crimes witnessed in Sydney, and will not be quickly forgotten.
These killings are all the more bewildering by the absence of a suspect or motive. As the only surviving member of the family Brenda Lin is a tragic emblem for the victims of what seem to be ever-more random, brutal and senseless crimes.
Well, while statistics show the incidence of violent crime declining, they take no account of the severity or - as in the case of the Lin killings and others - the seemingly random nature of the attacks.
The report, What Australians think about crime and justice: results from the 2007 Survey of Social Attitudes (PDF, 2MB), is an engrossing read on public opinion on a wide range of criminal justice questions.
The report charts a fairly rapid decline in support for the death penalty for murder, as well as decreasing support for the legalisation of cannabis. But it focuses on what people think are the truths about crime in Australia, and produces some fairly astounding evidence on just how far wide of the mark public opinion is on the extent of crime.
For example, less than 10 per cent of all crime involves violence, but more than 19 out of 20 Australians say it’s higher.
Predictably, the media gets a wag of the finger, with the report stating previous research had shown people who “relied on talkback radio, family and friends or commercial television have less accurate perceptions of crime than those who rely on other sources”.
There’s something crucial missing in this analysis, though: crimes are not just statistics, and violence is not always simple violence. There is ample evidence that the type of violence involved in crimes is becoming, at first glance, more random and brutal than before.
Like the violence visited on the Lins.
Or Matthew McEvoy, who was enjoying a night out with mates in Melbourne and is dead after a allegedly being king-hit and soccer-kicked.
Or Phillip Halipilias, a 20-year-old who was dancing in a Brisbane club and was fatally stabbed in front of hundreds of onlookers.
Or Kertisha Derschaw, who went out to a party, only to be found unconscious in a Perth flat with severe head injuries. She died soon afterwards, just days before her 18th birthday.
Or Krystelle Kelley, a 21-year-old whose life has been changed forever after she was glassed in the face.
Crime statisticians will add the lives of the Lins as another five integers in the murder records. They may even nudge the 2009 murder rate per 100,000 people in the country up a decimal point or two. But the effect of crimes like this on the community will be far greater.
Perhaps violent crime is on the wane, but while the trend in the actual numbers might be welcome, the types of crime - particularly these apparently random attacks - are cause for justified alarm.
What do you think?
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