By Teeranai Charuvastra and Todd Ruiz
BANGKOK — A recent article by the New York Times appeared to overstate a surge in crime it claimed has hit Thailand since the military seized power.
Report of a dramatic increase in crime under the junta – one of the central assertions in a Nov. 29 article about economic and social malaise in the kingdom – is not supported by crime statistics, and a criminology professor at Chulalongkorn University disputes the figure.
According to “Thai Economy and Spirits are Sagging” by regional correspondent Thomas Fuller, “[r]obberies and other property crimes have risen more than 60 percent this year.”
Crime statistics from the Royal Thai Police show a statistically negligible increase of 1.9 percent, with 920 additional crimes reported during the same period after a general decline since 2009.
The article, which painted a dire picture of Thailand’s economic prospects, did not include any attribution for the figure or conclusion. Reached for comment, Fuller said it was based on a November news conference at which police spokesman Dechnarong Suticharnbancha said 75,557 property-related crimes were reported in the fiscal year from Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015.
The actual crime statistics collected by the Royal Thai Police indicate otherwise, with only 48,657 reports of property-related crimes during the same period. Such crimes include theft, robbery and extortion.
The article was one of several recently redacted in local print editions of the International New York Times by its Bangkok-based publisher. It was held up by a number of commentators on social media as an example of the perils of censorship. The reported wave of crime was a striking detail, as it had not been widely reported elsewhere.
Fuller was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached by telephone. Responding by email, he referred questions about the story to the police statistics division, which published the data which is inconsistent with his report.
He also sent links to two reports in Thai media which mention the figure of 75,557 such crimes.
Number of reported property-related crimes by year. Source: Royal Thai Police
Indeed the Nov. 18 article by Thai Post cites the 75,557 figure and attributes it to police spokesman Dechnarong, who reportedly blamed it on an economic slump, natural disasters such as this year’s severe drought, and people losing their jobs.
Asked by email whether he had attended the press conference himself, and whether he and the New York Times stand by the story, Fuller again referred inquiries to police officials to confirm its details.
Attempts to reach the police spokesman, Dechnarong, for comment over a period of seven days were not successful. His assistant, Col. Napatpong Supaporn, said Dechnarong was too busy organizing security for a nationwide cycling event to be held Friday.
Amorn Wanichwiwatana, who teaches criminology at Chulalongkorn University, said he was not aware of any significant uptick in crime since the military came to power in May 2014.
“I don’t think that’s the case. It’s not possible,” he said of the 60 percent increase reported by the Times. “There may be some exaggeration.”
Amorn said he’s satisfied with crime levels under the junta, though he has not reviewed the most recent data.
“The coup had nothing to do with crime,” said Amorn, who also serves as a member of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee.
Statistics published by police differ slightly from those collected by the National Statistics Office, which only goes through 2014. The data from the statistics office still confirms a trend of falling crime in Thailand. According to its historical data, reports of property-related crimes have not exceeded 70,000 since 2007.
Number of reported property-related crimes by year. Source: National Statistics Office
Update: On Dec. 17, the New York Times retracted the claim and published a correction.
Editor's Note: After this story was published, Thomas Fuller wrote on Twitter late Wednesday night the “story is wrong.” Without elaborating, he wrote that “Thai police confirm there were 75,557 property crimes in 2015 fiscal year.” He also forwarded to a reporter a link to the website of the Royal Thai Police Operations Center, where a document indicates there were 75,557 property-related crimes reported during the past fiscal year.
However, the data in that same document counted 69,771 property-related crimes for fiscal year 2014, and it explicitly notes that such crime “increases 5,786 cases (8.29%),” and not the 60 percent as reported by Fuller in the Nov. 30 article. Fuller could not be reached by telephone today and referred a reporter by email to a police statistician.
Image from the police document states a rise in property-related crimes of 8.29 percent. Source: Royal Thai Police Operations Center