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Estimating the Costs of Crime in New Zealand in 2003/04 - WP 06/04

3  Summary of results

Our study concludes that the estimated total cost of crime in New Zealand in 2003/04 is $9.1 billion, as a result of an estimated 1.8 million criminal acts in that year. The public sector’s share comprises about $2.1 billion and the private sector’s share about $7 billion.

Total and average (i.e. per offence) costs by major crime category and sub-category are shown in Table 1. Both total cost and average cost (per criminal act) measures are useful, for different reasons. The total cost shows the contribution and magnitude of the impact of different crime types on society. The average cost estimates are a potential input to decisions on policy initiatives that seek to reduce particular categories of crime.

The most costly crime category is offences against the person, contributing to 45 percent of the total cost of crime (but representing only 19 percent of all criminal acts).

The next most costly category is offences against property, contributing to 41 percent of the total cost. This is easily the most common category of crime, accounting for 74 percent of all criminal acts.

On a per criminal act basis, sexual offences are by far the most costly sub-category, primarily reflecting the impact on victims. Serious traffic offences (which on occasions result in injuries and/or fatalities) and robbery also have a relatively high average cost, again reflecting victim impact (intended or unintended).

Table 1 – Total cost, and cost per offence, by category of crime
2003/04 Total cost ($ million) Share (%) Estimated number of actual criminal acts Share (%) Cost per criminal act ($)
Offences against the person 4,120 45% 334,300 19% 12,320
– Violent offences 2,771 30% 311,000 17% 8,910
– Sexual offences 1,192 13% 16,500 1% 72,130
– Robbery 157 2% 6,800 0% 23,100
Offences against private property 3,744 41% 1,334,600 74% 2,800
– Burglary 942 10% 133,400 7% 7,060
– Theft 1,233 14% 946,600 53% 1,300
– Property damage 398 4% 184,300 10% 2,160
– Fraud 1,170 13% 70,300 4% 16,650
Offences with no direct or intended victim 1,273 14% 123,400 7% 10,310
– Drug offences 129 1% 22,200 1% 5,780
– Serious traffic 988 11% 31,700 2% 31,210
– All other 156 2% 69,500 4% 2,240
Total 9,136 100% 1,792,400 100% 5,100

Estimating an average cost per crime disguises the wide range of costs that occur within each category. Costs at the margin can be significantly different from average costs:

  • violent offences have a relatively low average cost because more than two thirds of these are comparatively minor in nature; however, some violent offences have very high average costs – homicides, for example, average $3.9 million;
  • conversely, serious traffic offences have a relatively high average cost because the costs associated with injuries and fatalities, on the 15% of occasions these occur, are very high (comparable to those for grievous assaults and homicides, respectively);
  • similarly, the average cost for fraud is affected by a relatively small number of high-cost offences.
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