Has New Zealand Identified the Causes of Crime?
Policy Implications and Suggestions
Consistent with Pawson's 'realist synthesis' strand of evidence-based policy which "adopts a 'generative' understanding of causation" (2002, p. 342) and builds successful programs iteratively - drawing lessons equally from elements that worked and those that didn't - the following proposals offer practical suggestions for New Zealand’s 5 Drivers of Crime, and may have some general application for crime prevention initiatives elsewhere.
Purportedly representing the underlying causes of offending and victimisation, The 5 Drivers of Crime expressly or implicitly mischaracterises correlation for causation. Its constituent elements retain legitimacy as risk factors correlated with crime, and as initial priority areas for policy development and focus areas for intervention, but they are not causes of crime. This distinction matters, because focusing on elements that have little or no causative effect on crime, and excluding others that may arguably be causative, risks less effective outcomes. If any updated version of the ‘drivers of crime’ is defined clearly, accurately and consistently as a subset selected for priority attention from a range of factors correlated with crime, debate on the issue would deflate to less than Durant’s suggested paragraph. In the meantime, the answer to the question posed in the title is simple. No.
The author shared key findings from an early draft of this research with NZ Police. Senior representatives accepted that The 5 Drivers of Crime is not causative of offending, and confirmed its inclusion in a review of the Prevention First operating strategy. A Police media release soon afterwards (“Warrants executed in Taranaki meth operation”, 9 December 2015) referred to “the five priorities in the Prevention First strategy” a formulation that does not expressly or impliedly suggest criminal causation.
The author gratefully acknowledges support and assistance from Adjunct Professor Michael McFadden, (Former) Detective Superintendent Peter Devoy and Ashley Balls (critique on early drafts), Professor Graham Farrell (background on England’s six key drivers of crime), Dr Gwyn Fox (linguistic stress testing), and another scholar and several practitioners, all with a passion for policy effectiveness, policing excellence, and better outcomes, unnamed for their own reasons. Although they may not agree with all the points made here, their comments on earlier versions of the ideas expressed in this article were valuable and are appreciated.
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1.) Cabinet is the central policy and decision-making body of the executive branch of New Zealand's government, comprising the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.
2.) The author has not seen evidence that any of the enumerated signposts, other than the first, were actually uncovered in the Addressing the Drivers of Crime policy process from which The 5 Drivers of Crime resulted. Although readily accessible from a cursory glance at the scientific evidence base and the government’s own records, it is plausible that in 2009/2010 policymakers and Police were not aware of the latter three, in which case they are listed here with the usual benefits of hindsight.
3.) Although it may not have been available to them, participants’ comments echoed the earlier national crime prevention initiative noted above. Addressing white-collar crime - costing “billions of dollars” each year (Crime Prevention Action Group, 1992, pp. 28, 74) and carrying societal impact “considerably greater than the cost of robbery, theft and burglary combined” (Crime Prevention Unit, 1993, p. 11) - had been listed as one of seven crime prevention policy goals (Crime Prevention Action Group, 1992, 1993).
4.) The data are scant, and assumptions heroic, and without access to the underlying data these estimates are intended merely illustrative.
5.) This is consistent with earlier research indicating that “the value and impact of white-collar crime,” costing “billions of dollars” each year, “is considerably greater than the cost of robbery, theft and burglary combined” (Crime Prevention Action Group, 1992, pp. 27, 28, 74; Crime Prevention Unit, 1993, p. 11).