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Looking at the numbers behind death penalty

By: - Researcher / @Inq_Researchers
/ 12:19 AM January 29, 2017

Does the death penalty deter crime? It’s an issue that’s long been debated and remains under dispute, but that has not stopped Congress from scheduling this coming week the plenary debates on House Bill No. 4727, a consolidated version of seven bills on capital punishment.

When Republic Act  No. 7659 imposed the death penalty for heinous crimes more than 20 years ago, the crime rate—the number of crime incidents per 100,000 population—decreased from 145.7 in 1993 to 98 in 1998. In 1999, however, when six of the seven executions under the Estrada administration happened, the crime rate rose to 111.

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After 2006, when the death penalty was abolished, data showed that the crime rate inched up in 2009, while a “downtrend” was seen from 2010 until 2012. It rose again in 2013.

The fluctuations, however, can be traced to changes in the system of crime reporting and inconsistencies in recording crime, not to actual spikes or dives in the number of crimes committed.

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Beginning 2009, carnapping and cattle rustling were added to index crimes, which are defined as crimes that are “serious in nature and occur with sufficient frequency and regularity such that they can serve as an index (or measure) of the crime situation.”

Barangay blotter

The shift from the old system of crime reporting known as Police Regional Office Period Report to the Unit Crime Periodic Report (Ucper) in 2009 also meant that total crime volume would be sourced not only from the police blotter but also from the barangay blotter and crime reports from other law enforcement agencies like the National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

This might explain why the crime rate soared from 74.7 in 2008 to 552.3 in 2009.

When a validation of 2012 crime statistics in police blotters in Metro Manila was conducted by the Philippine National Police, it appeared that only 45 percent of the crime incidents were reflected in the Ucper.

When the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division conducted another validation of crime statistics from January to February 2013, the review found a discrepancy of 16,282 crime incidents.

A validation by the police national headquarters meanwhile revealed several flaws: underreporting of crime incidents and statistics; failure to submit crime incidents recorded in police blotters in the barangay; discrepancies in crime data vis-á-vis the data validated by the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management; failure to reconcile incidents recorded in barangay blotters, and the tendency to report to police stations only those crimes that were solved.

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Fear of retribution

This and other memoranda showed that the police had been perennially confronted with problems in crime recording. Add to this the likelihood that victims were not reporting crimes due to fear of retribution or lack of resources. Similarly, the accuracy of the body count in President Duterte’s war on drugs, which has so far exceeded 6,000, has been repeatedly challenged.

When the numbers do not capture the true crime situation in the country, how then can criminality be solved?

A question that legislators should be asked is: Would someone contemplating murder be discouraged to commit the crime because he knows he could be executed?

However, another equally valid question is: Would someone contemplating murder hesitate if he knows that he could get away with it?

It’s a question prompted by a previous Amnesty International Philippines report that concluded that it was not just fear of the death penalty, but also the certainty of arrest and conviction, that influences crime.

Records show that in the past decade, the number of cases of heinous crimes pending in the lower courts had been reduced from 16,461 at the end of 2006, to 10,986 at the end of last year, a 30 percent decrease within a 10-year period.

Error rate

While the current conviction, acquittal and dismissal rates for heinous crimes could not be immediately determined, one telling statistic from 10 years ago is the error rate in the death penalty sentence under RA 7659.

A review of 907 capital punishment cases from 1993 to 2004 resulted in the modification of penalty for 555 cases, acquittal for 65 cases and dismissal for 26.

Meanwhile, 31 cases were remanded while only 230 were affirmed. This means that seven in 10 of the cases reviewed did not deserve the death penalty.

On the other hand, an analysis of data from the Department of Justice showed a steady prosecution disposition rate for rape, murder and kidnapping cases from 2010 to 2016.

Beyond the efficiency of the judicial system,  economic factors were also been identified as among the determinants of crime. Again, it has been asked: Is criminality lower in places where economic conditions are better?

A comparison of crime rate, poverty incidence and gini coefficient—a measure of income inequality within a population—showed a direct relationship between poverty and crime rate. The three regions in the top eight poorest regions in the country—Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Bicol—were also among the top eight when it comes to the most number of reported crimes.

Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao, along with Western Visayas, are also among the regions with higher income inequality as well as a higher crime rate.

Given such reports and varied factors behind crime, shouldn’t the government look at the numbers first before turning to death penalty in its campaign for safer communities?

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TAGS: Capital Punishment, crime deterrent, crime recording, crime reporting systems, crime statistics, Death penalty, House of Representatives, Police Regional Office Period Report, Unit Crime Periodic Report
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