Saturday, December 14, 2013

How to Lie With Statistics: Honduran Homicide Edition

Arturo Corrales has cut off Honduras's Observatorio de Violencia from its ability to get crime statistics from the police and coroners in Honduras. 

Julietta Castellanos, the rector of the National Autonomous University, says that Corrales has obstructed the Observatorio from getting statistics for the last 6 months of this year.  Castellanos observed that the Observatorio:
"was created in 2003 and never have we had any restriction on access to the information; the procedures and methodology for the construction of the data were a validation process done by the University, the Public Prosecutor's office, and the Secretary of Security."

The power struggle between an administration that desperately wants to make the homicide statistics look better, and the Observatorio de Violencia, that wants to transparently report on the statistics, was made clear in October, when both the government and the Observatorio released their homicide statistics for the first half of 2013.

They differed on the number of murders by about a thousand.

At that time Corrales made the argument that it was proper to change the way Honduras reports homicides to conform to the standard way the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo counts homicides. This procedure is particularly maladapted to the Honduran situation.  It calls for a determination of homicide only when both police and a coroner agree on a verdict of homicide.

In Honduras, few homicide victims are examined by a coroner.  Coroners only operate in the major cities (Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula) so for there to be a determination by a coroner, the body would have to be taken from where the individual was killed, to one of these morgues.  That simply doesn't happen, for cultural and financial reasons.  Most Hondurans reclaim the body from the police within 24 hours and bury it within 48 hours of death. The existing coroners have trouble keeping up with the volume of urban homicides. But violent death is not limited to these cities.

So requiring both a police and a coroner's report predictably would lower Honduras' reported murder rate, even though nothing has actually changed.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa claimed yesterday that
"the indices of violence have experienced a notable decline,"

and continued that he often used to hear of 20-35 deaths a day, but now it seldom breaks single digits.

That is, obviously, no justification not to make the data requested by the Observatorio de Violencia public. The reasons for obscuring it are purely political. 

The government claims homicides are down, and wants to show a big reduction.  However, the way they're now counting homicides is incompatible with the way the rate was determined in past years, so whatever they choose to announce is actually meaningless.  Numbers calculated using a new method cannot be used to establish a pattern with respect to previous homicide rates. 

As Migdonia Ayestas, head of the Observatorio de Violencia told Proceso Digital:
"we cannot play with the citizenry saying that violence has diminished when we have seen that daily there are multiple crimes."

Caritas, the Catholic charity, also issued a statement lamenting the obfuscation and calling on Corrales to cease obstructing the Observatorio's access to information.

Proceso Digital seems to agree.  It closes its article:
Ever since Arturo Corrales assumed the reins of the Secretary of Security, in one way or another they have hidden the violent death statistics from the press and the citizens in general.

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