Does Grand Theft Auto really cause grand theft auto?

If you – as we did – responded to NSW Hospitality Minister George Souris’ claim last fortnight that small bars were the cause of Sydney’s violent crime with a bemused headscratch, fear not! This week NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione goes after a far more familiar target – violent video games.

The NSW government and police have tried to pin Sydney’s crime problems on so many sources that the whole exercise is starting to resemble an episode of Today Tonight. I’ve always imagined there’s a script:

There is currently an outcry over [social problem]. This week we should blame it on: A.)Teenage binge drinking B.) “Designer drugs” C.) Young women in short skirts D.) Lack of respect taught in schools E.) The internet. Please limit yourself to one potential cause per week.

And yet, unfortunately for Scipione, the link between violent video games and violent crime is about as clear as the link between small bars and violence: not very. The economist Eric Crampton points to a paper that shows “while violent games get violent people excited about violence, they also reduce crime … by keeping violent people in their houses playing violent video games where they’d otherwise be going out to do violent things.” So much for that explanation then.

I suspect most people would be uncomfortable with the idea that the NSW police commissioner thinks we’re all one game of Grand Theft Auto IV away from mass knife crime. Endlessly pontificating on possible causes of violence isn’t what the public expects of its police force. What the public expects the police to do is actually pretty basic: effective and efficient policing.

Or maybe next week Scipione can try blaming shonky plumbers.


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