Correct and timely information – less crime

16. August, 2009


Andris Kairišs

Foto: London Permaculture

One of the most significant obstacles to effective prevention is lack of information and ineffective communication among the involved services as well as the weak link with the community.

It was Plato who was the first to express the idea of crime prevention viewing crime as a disease of the criminal’s soul as well as an ailment of the state that should be treated by the state and thus laws of the state should be of the kind that could divert people from committing crimes. The idea of prevention was further developed in the writing of John Locke and French philosophers of the Enlightenment; however, the idea of prevention in its scientific sense was formulated by Cezare Beccaria who stated in his work On Crime and Punishment in 1764 that it was better to prevent crimes than to impose punishment for them.

Nowadays increasingly more attention is paid to crime prevention also in Latvia and preventive activities involve law enforcement bodies as well as educational institutions, social services and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, one of the most serious obstacles to undertaking effective prevention at all levels and on all scales is lack of respective information and ineffective communication among the involved services as well as the weak link with the community.

Another relevant aspect is related to victims of crime. In the course of centuries society as well as law enforcement agencies paid almost no attention to persons who had suffered physical, material or moral damage at the hands of criminals, and most frequently the relevance of victims was associated only with their testimonies. Over the last decades the situation has undergone a significant change, and nowadays law enforcement agencies, court, prosecution, NGOs, writers, journalists and scholars pay increasingly more attention to victims.

Until now the Latvian law enforcement system did not pay sufficient attention to victims of crime, concentrating mostly on individuals who had committed criminal offences. However, the analysis of descriptions of victims together with the analysis of descriptions of crimes lays the foundation for effective crime prevention and may facilitate their investigation and detection.

Victims — left without attention

Upon the analysis of data of information systems that are in the competence of the Information Centre at the Ministry of Interior, specialists of the Centre have come to several conclusions. One of them is that the current information systems focus, in most part, on descriptions of the criminal and the crime, paying almost no attention to victims. Likewise in the information systems there are, in fact, no data on the so-called hate crimes, for example, against individuals because of their mental disorders, sexual orientation or any other feature. In their turn, the available data on offences on the grounds of the individual’s ethnicity or race are not always objective as the offender’s initial motivation may be qualified as, for example, hooliganism. As data on the victim’s race or ethnic origin are not included in the information system in view of its sensitive nature, it is not possible to establish if the hate-based motivation has been at the basis of acts of hooliganism.

Still another problem is lack of efficient information processing and integration on criminogenic factors that influence the possibilities of a minor to get on the path to crime. For example, there is no information about the microenvironment that is unfavourable for the development of the individual – a dysfunctional family, the minor’s alcohol addiction, drug abuse or vagrancy, absenteeism from school. Neither is there any centralized information storage on the individual’s contacts with law enforcement agencies nor assistance and support that has been provided to the individual by other services and organisations. Information on sexual crimes and descriptions of their perpetrators, among them also paedophiliacs, is not processed in an effective manner. Likewise employees of children’s institutions and candidates to these jobs are not subject to sufficiently operative and efficient screening if they should be allowed to work at children’s institutions[1]. In its turn, data that actually pertain to one and the same issue, for example, minors who need help, are accumulated in mutually unconnected information systems and thus are not integrated.

New solutions, more information

However, the above problems have consequences as well:

  • It is not possible to identify on the national scale and in specific administrative territories groups that are most exposed to victimization[2] in relation to specific types of offences. Thus it is not possible to formulate a set of victimisation prevention measures either. It is important to note that groups of the population that are most exposed to victimisation are not at all that obvious. For example, statistical data on the USA[3] reveal that young single male Afro-Americans with a low income and residing in urban areas are more exposed to the risk of burglary than other groups of the population;
  • The population is not provided information on crimes and victims of these crimes, for example, by indicating the “hot spots” of crime on the city map;
  • It is difficult to establish a link between the committed crimes, for example, by linking descriptions of victims and thus it is more difficult to prevent and to detect serial crimes;
  • It is not possible to give an objective assessment to the damage incurred by crime;
  • Agencies involved in prevention are not provided with the necessary information on specific criminogenic factors. Thus, no mutual information exchange is undertaken among institutions to enable each agency to get immediately involved in individual prevention, for example, to provide assistance to a minor by impacting on the microenvironment that is detrimental for the individual’s development and by promoting options of the minor to develop and to refrain from committing violations of the law;
  • There is a possibility that the number of hate offences that have been committed, has been artificially lowered. It does not allow to undertake an objective analysis of the situation for the purposes of preventing and combating these offences, nor does it allow to fulfil international obligations assumed by Latvia concerning the collation and provision of statistical information on hate crimes;
  • It is difficult to prevent re-offending concerning sexual crimes, including sexual crimes against children.
  • In order to resolve these problems, efforts are undertaken in Latvia to develop various data processing solutions with the financial support of the EU. In this article I will mention only some of them. For example, a database on Victims of Criminal Offences is in the process of development[4]. The purpose of this project is to ensure an efficient processing of information about victims of criminal offences, establishing and analysing factors and situations influencing victimisation. Thus, the protection of the interests of the population is promoted, for example, by reducing the red tape in the procedure of receiving state compensations, ensuring the visualisation of statistical information on digital geographic maps. Likewise efforts are undertaken to promote the performance of functions by institutions – information users, cooperation with other EU member states and the fulfilment of international agreements of Latvia in respect of the information exchange

    Alongside with the above, the development of the Minor Persons Support Information System will start soon[5]. The goal of the project is to promote preventive activities[6] — early risk identification and individual prevention in respect of offences committed by minors and the victimisation of minors. Likewise, the said project will make it possible to provide assistance to minors, encouraging them to sever their ties with the criminal environment, to terminate their anti-social activities, thus enabling them to grow up to be harmoniously developed and law-abiding individuals. In order to accomplish these tasks, it is necessary to improve cooperation among the involved social and law enforcement, educational and other services by establishing a unified nation-wide information system, including the development of a unified information processing solution for custody courts. This system will collate and integrate data that will be provided by various agencies on minors belonging to risk categories, for example, on individuals who have committed administrative violations, who live in socially disadvantaged or inappropriate conditions, do not attend school. The project is not in any way related to penal or repressive functions; instead it focuses only on preventive activities, promoting the identification of those individuals who need help.

    The Information Centre of the Ministry of Interior has formulated a project application on the Improvement of Record Keeping on Sex Offenders[7]. The aim of this project is to ensure complete information processing on sex offenders at the national level, thus providing a rapid circulation of information and cooperation among law enforcement and other involved institutions, the prevention of the recidivism of sexual crimes and the publication of the respective statistical data to improve the awareness of the society. The given project will be a significant support for law enforcement agencies in identifying sex offenders. Likewise it will serve as a support to childcare institutions in screening job-seekers and the current staff concerning their admissibility for work at child care institutions. The Project will also improve information exchange options in at the EU and international level.

    One does not need to be a fortune teller to be able to forecast a significant growth of social problems and an increase in the crime rate during the economic crisis. Problems will become more aggravated, in view of the growing shortage of resources in law enforcement agencies and other institutions involved in the prevention of offences and victimisation, as well as in work with victims. In view of the above, there are grounds to conclude that the relevance of the information support is going to increase to a considerable degree. Developed and updated information systems allow institutions to objectively analyse and assess the situation, provide an opportunity for residents to see the actual situation as well as promote possibilities for preventing victimisation.


    [1] Law of the Republic of Latvia on Protection of Children’s Rights, Article 72 (Latvijas Republikas likuma „Bērnu tiesību aizsardzības likums” 72.pants)

    [2] Victimisation – the process of transformation into a victim of a criminal offence (attempted criminal offence) as well as the result of the said process on individual as well as mass basis (

    [3] For example, Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2006. Statistical Tables. National Crime Victimization Survey (; Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. National Crime Victimization Survey. Criminal Victimization, 2005 ( u.c.

    [4] In 2007 the Information Centre of the Ministry of Interior submitted a project application „Development of the Database on Victims of Criminal Offences within the special financial programme of the European Community

    „Prevention of and Fight Against Crime 2007”. Foreign project partners include the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Poland and the Department of Information and Communications of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Lithuania. Participants in the Project implementation include the Administration of Legal Aid of the Ministry of Justice, the Ombudsman’s Office of the Republic of Latvia, non-governmental organisations (for example, the public policy centre “Providus”) and other institutions. It is envisaged that the project will be implemented by the middle of 2011.

    [5] In March of 2009 the Information Centre of the Ministry of Interior submitted a project application „Development of Minor Persons Support Information System” within the special financial programme of the European Community “Prevention of and Fight against Crime 2007” (stage 1). The Commission of the European Union approved the Project in June 2009 and the projected deadline is the beginning of 2012.

    [6] Preventive activities pertain to primary as well as secondary prevention as well as the prevention of re-offending.

    [7] This project application has been submitted to the tender of the special financial programme of the European Community “Prevention of and Fight Against Crime 2007” (stage 2). The Project implementation is conceptually supported by the State Probation Service, the State Police, the Ombudsman’s Office of Latvia, several non-governmental organisations; interest in the Project has also been expressed by foreign partners. raksts

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