Surveys of public safety | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Surveys of public safety

/ 12:26 AM August 20, 2016

As an important dimension of the quality of life, public safety has always been part of the core agenda of Social Weather Stations. The questionnaires of the standard Social Weather Surveys—twice a year in 1986-91, quarterly since 1992—have two modules on public safety. One module has questions about the victimization of families by crime. A second asks about public anxiety as to the safety of the home and of neighborhood streets.  With these modules, the SWS surveys provide regular statistical indicators of public safety “seen from below”—i.e., as reported by representative samples of Filipinos.

These modules are not commissioned by anyone, and cannot be suppressed.  They are regularly run as a public service.  The underlying raw data are archived at the SWS Survey Data Library for ultimate public use.  Clients of SWS get preference for access to the latest data.  The Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police, in particular, have been briefed on the SWS surveys of public safety many times in the past.

Victimization by common crimes. In a standard SWS survey, the respondent (an adult drawn at random from the household members) is asked if anyone in the family was a victim of the following common crimes at any time in the past six months: a) pickpocketing or robbery of personal property anywhere outside the home;

  1. b) break-in or burglary of the home itself; c) theft of any motor vehicle; and d) physical violence.

The survey questions also include the number, the gender and the age of the individual victims.  The surveys do not probe into grievous crimes like murder or rape, which have such tiny incidences that a general national sample of only 1,000 or so respondents will be unable to pick them up.


Since the unit of account is the family, the survey can project the number of incidents of victimization by common crimes by applying the ratio of the victims to the total number of families in the nation, which is presently about 22.5 million.  To convert to the monthly time frame, divide by six. This survey approach, of asking a statistical sample of people if their families have been victimized, gives crime rates very much higher—and I think more realistic—than the official crime rates from police blotters.

A large proportion of crimes are not captured by the police blotter, since they are not reported by victims to the police at all.  From other survey probes done from time to time, we have learned that many victims: a) consider some crimes too minor to be worth the effort to report them; b) do not trust the police to recover their stolen property or to capture the criminals; c) are afraid of retaliation by the criminals; d) are related to the criminals and so are willing to let them go unpunished; etc.  I recall a study from Sweden saying its crime rates are unusually high because Swedes trust the police so much that they report very minor offenses.

Survey-based crime rates, even if they overstate the blotter rates, can still establish the long-run trends.  Total six-month victimization in the time of Cory Aquino ranged from 23 to 38 percent (of families), ending at 32.  In Fidel Ramos’ time it ranged from 12 to 37 percent, ending at 22. Under Joseph Estrada, it was 15 percent early on, and subsided to 11 percent. Under Gloria Arroyo, it was flatter; it went as high as 15 percent, but from 2008 it settled at 9-11 percent.  Under Noynoy Aquino it fell drastically from 13 percent in 2010 to only 6 percent by mid-2015, but it has climbed back up to 11 percent since then. This jagged downward trend in the past 30 years is a real legacy for the new administration to build on.

Perceived insecurity of the home and the neighborhood. The second module of items about public safety in the quarterly Social Weather Surveys has three “agree/disagree” questions about the security of the neighborhood:


1) “In this neighborhood, people are usually afraid that robbers might break into their homes.”

2) “In this neighborhood, people are usually afraid to walk the streets at night because it is not safe.”  The first two questions are quite traditional in other countries’ surveys; they have been in all Social Weather Surveys ever since 1986.


3) “In this neighborhood, there are already too many people addicted to banned drugs.”  This question was introduced in 2005 and maintained thereafter.

From these three items, one cannot see a general improvement over time.  The gross fear of burglary has hovered around 50 percent for three decades; lately it even exceeded 60 percent.  A net fear (an excess of agree over disagree) exists everywhere, but most of all in the National Capital Region (NCR).  The fear of burglary is less in the Balance of Luzon and Visayas, and is least in Mindanao.

The feeling that it is unsafe to walk in the neighborhood at night predominates everywhere, most of all in the NCR.  Next is the Visayas, and then the Balance of Luzon.  Mindanaoans are best off, being evenly divided on feeling that their neighborhood is safe at night.  Split opinions are also found among the ABC classes and among college graduates, who presumably reside in safer, better-policed, locations.

The last indicator is the presence of “many” drug addicts in the neighborhood, which was noticed by 37 percent when first surveyed in 2005. It was in the 40s in 2006-08, fell back to the 30s by 2009, but was in the 40s again in 2012. What is really alarming is that it hit the 50s by 2014, and most recently has exceeded 60.  Here is an indicator to be watched closely, to gauge the impact of the new administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.

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TAGS: crime, Public Safety, Social Weather Surveys

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