If you break down figures for the first half of the year then Bermuda’s six murders would put us up there on extrapolated rates with countries like Mexico. Soldiers are seen here patrolling the Apatzingan city streets where the La Familia drug gang, Mexico’s most violent, rules the city. *AFP photo
If you break down figures for the first half of the year then Bermuda’s six murders would put us up there on extrapolated rates with countries like Mexico. Soldiers are seen here patrolling the Apatzingan city streets where the La Familia drug gang, Mexico’s most violent, rules the city. *AFP photo

FRIDAY, DEC. 2: As the old saying goes we have “lies, damn lies and statistics”. If you believe the mathematicians we also have “truth, damn truth and statistics”. And which of these sayings you prefer depends on your view of the methods used and the conclusions reached.

Take the recent figures from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. According to their latest Global Study on Homicide Bermuda had a rating of 7.7 murders per 100,000 — the population figure used as a numerical base to measure ratings — with five homicides in 2010.

While the report didn’t include this year’s figures, we already know that there have been eight murders on the island so far. The result? Bermuda’s rate goes up to 12.5 making it almost double the world average of 6.9 murders per 100,000. 

Hmm... the facts don’t lie, do they? Well on strict numerical terms they don’t but neither do they tell the whole story. If you just go on yearly figures, it doesn’t take a huge number of additional incidents to take a small country from slightly above the world average for homicides per head of population to way ahead of it. Take the recent tragic situation in Norway where one mad man on a terrible mission wiped out 77 people tripling the murder rate for the entire country.

And a sudden spike in murders in Grand Cayman, which saw 5 gang related murders in a ten day period in September, will push the island up the homicide ratings next year.

The UN Global study shows that Bermuda went from a 3.1 homicide rating in 2003-2004 to 4.7 in the years from 2005-2007. The difference between these two figures was one additional murder incident per year — there were two homicides per year in 2003-4 and three in each of the subsequent years up to 2007.

Then in 2008 the murder figure rose to 5. This gave Bermuda a 7.7 rating and one extra murder in 2009 pushed the island up to a 9.3 rating.

So you get the drift. Without wishing to minimise the impact of each of these terrible events, even one additional incident can push the average rate up the world scale. While the recent increase in the number of murders in Bermuda is worrying, especially those involving firearms, there can be a swing from apparent danger to relative safety by small shifts.

 

It’s worth noting that the UN report puts Bermuda in the Northern American sub region alongside Canada and the US. In this sub group, Bermuda is the only one where the murder rate is rising — both the US and Canada have seen drops over recent years. Yet if you compare Bermuda to the Caribbean islands which are listed separately, the situation looks quite different. Jamaica has a 52.1 rating for 2010 with 1,428 murders. St Kitts and Nevis rates 38.2 and St Lucia 25.2. Like Bermuda many of these islands have seen rises in homicides over recent years. For anyone sufficiently interested in delving a bit more, just search the UN’s Global Study on Homicide 2011 and take a look.

And something else to consider as far as Bermuda is concerned. Looking at this year’s homicide figures to date, if you break down figures for the first half of the year then the Island’s six murders would put us up there on extrapolated rates with countries like Mexico. In the second half of the year — providing there are no more incidents – Bermuda falls below the world average.

Alongside the figures on murder rates another piece of news has emerged. This year is set to show the lowest overall crime rates on the Island since 2000. As a guess, this news comes as a surprise to the average Bermudian with the perception that crime in general is increasing.

There you have it. Figures telling one story for murder rates and another for more general crime. But that’s statistics for you and they can be both intriguing and infuriating. They can also be numerically accurate but still need to be taken for what they are – useful ‘tools’ which don’t always give the fuller and invariably more complex picture. Certainly the UN study warns that homicide data is far from perfect and that comparisons between countries should be used with caution.

So it is right that we should take a ‘cautious’ note of the findings but also bear in mind these two stark figures. From 2001-2010 Bermuda had 34 murders. Meanwhile the US had over 160,000. Yet more data to chew on from the UN report.

Maggie Fogarty is a Royal Television Society award winning TV producer and journalist currently living in Bermuda.