Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Crime Statistics in Russia ‘Totally Unreliable,’ Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 8 – Many have expected a spike in crime in Russia and it may even be happening, Kirill Titayev, a sociologist at St. Petersburg’s European University says; but Russian statistics on crime are so “totally manipulated” that it is almost impossible to say whether this or that kind of crime is increasing or decreasing.

            Indeed, he tells Arnold Khachaturov of “Novaya gazeta,” his colleagues have found that “the main predictor of the number of crimes and of those being solved depends [largely] on how long it has been since the heads of law enforcement organs in the subject of the Federation has been in office (

            “When a new leader arrives, criminality goes up as does the share of crimes being solved and he explains this” as evidence of his success. And then over time, crimes and the share of them being solved decline. Unfortunately, Titov says, this pattern is not confined to the local or regional level; it affects the all-Russian figures as well.

            Moscow determines how many corruption cases there are and how many are “solved,” the sociologist says. That is understandable given the fact that in all cases of bribery, both sides involved have reason not to have it come out.  But the same kind of protectionism works for other crimes as well, the sociologist continues.

            Sometimes the heads of police agencies report an upsurge in crime in order to extract more resources from the government.  Over the last six years, the amount the government spends on criminal investigations has in fact continued to fall. Some of this has been diverted to Putin’s National Guard; but police have an interest in seeing their incomes go up.

            Because of these distortions, those scholars who try to track crime have to use indirect methods.  There have been some obvious trends, Titov says. Street crime is in fact down over the last two decades, in large measure he suggests because of the rise of computer games which attract many who earlier engaged in it.

            In other comments, Titov explains why Russia’s the situation regarding crimes and their solution is fundamentally different than and behind the times of other developed countries.  One reason has to do with Russia’s northern model of alcohol consumption in which 15 percent of the population consume 85 percent of the alcohol and often commit crimes while intoxicated.

            And both the authors of many crimes and their victims in this case are members of the underclass, about whom the authorities know less not only because they ignore them but also because many in this class, especially in Russia, do all that they can to avoid any interaction with officialdom, further weakening statistical measures.

            The police have a hard time recording or solving crimes is no one reports them, the sociologist points out. And the situation in Russia is especially bad because it is hypercentralized and because it is driven by statistics which encourage some things being reported and others not, Titov says.

            “Russia is practically the only example of a large country with a centralized police,” he continues. In most others, decentralization is the rule.  But because it is centralized and driven by the factors it is, Titov says, the police are increasingly separate from the people and becoming ever more like “the police of Alabama in the 1920s.”

            That must change or soon the police system “will simply cease to work.” But for the police system to change, the political system as a whole must change as well.

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