Thought Experiments on Policing

In the general run of life we just try to cope or manage.  Societies run and die doing this in many apparently different ways. God knows what is going on in North Korea now.  In China, people ‘full of the joys of work’,are throwing themselves off the top of company accommodation buildings.  In Britain, a young boy is cruelly slaughtered under the ‘watchful’ eyes of his GP, hospital experts, social services and police.  Easter Islanders died out building large statues, and ecocide (Jared Diamond has written some good stuff on this) is common in human history, as is war and all kinds of daft stuff we manage to ‘revere’.

Many of us probably don’t give much of a rat about ‘capitalism’ and would struggle to describe what it is.  We may revere our democracies a little more, but politics is a turn off.  In the UK we have discovered that we come to loathe those in power.  I could hardly distinguish between sleazy Tories and Nulabour hymn-sheet readers after 18 years of the first and 13 of the latter.  All became drones of policy and success we clearly weren’t getting.  The new lot are beginning to earn the acronym ConDem as we would say it.  This is after just a couple of months.  The ‘new lot’ are, of course, the ‘old lot’ less some expense-fiddling scum, though immediately we discover not all of them as the Liberal appointed accounting hatchet-man turns out (big deal and quelle surprise) to be gay and prepared to fiddle his expenses rather than come out.  We are promised a referendum on voting reform and there is an immediate reaction amongst the old guard to stop it.  One wonders if this is because they feel a dose of democracy will not be good for them.

I’ve no doubt, in principle but not desire, I could write essays on such titles as ‘Capitalism depends on and encourages the formation and maintenance of free markets’.  I’d be tempted to write ‘utter bolloxs’, but expect few examiners these days would credit this as sense or intelligence.  Anthony Flew is supposed to have written ‘This is.’ as an answer to the question ‘What is courage?’ in an undergraduate exam.  I once asked my own students why this was a good definition of courage and most ‘got it’ as badly as MPs on the expenses scandal.

We bumble along not knowing much about the system we operate in.  If we are lucky, it doesn’t matter much.  No doubt the first steps to ecocide seem beneficial.  It’s when there are no trees left to build boats to get the fish that is the vital food supply that the folly of our ways might dawn.  Bacteria growing under glass culture breed rapidly, but poison themselves long before the food substrate runs out.  We are much more “advanced”.  How close the the point of waving towels to attract passing space-craft on which to escape we are, only the Lord knows; he turned out to be a cat.

We don’t like to think we’d have been Nazis, growing in a culture of them.  The evidence is we would have been, as the evidence is that modern Germans would not.  What would be like growing as North Koreans?  Larger and whiter than average and otherwise just like the current population (or dead and ethnically cleansed).

So what would such a preamble have to do with thought experiments on policing?  I’d rather ask you than tell.  Like the host of one of the thousand shows encouraging domestic violence on stage sticking the microphone under your nose and asking ‘what do you think?’; removing it before you could actually say anything sensible (not that you could, if a member of such an audience).

This answer is a bit to do with much-vaunted ‘blue sky thinking’.  How might we spot our own bad habits, the impact of what we take for granted, what we are routinised into?  To keep enough wood to build the boats we need, rather than chopping down trees to make logs to transport huge stone effigies to God to the sea.  We should note blue sky thinkers are often vapid, conservative donkeys capable of nothing more than wearing a suit with an open necked shirt and would never know why the sky appears blue.  I was always uncomfortable with my Father’s explanation this was because it was a reflection of the sea (which, living in Britain always seemed a dirty, greeny-grey to me).

Managers used to be encouraged to seek the view of the ‘man from Mars’.  Back a while, this was a metaphor for thinking the unthinkable, concerning an alien view.  Later, it would have meant the man from the food company, in order to benchmark your postal service against this excellent company.  I might have hoped a bunch of limpid management drones would fall off a cliff trying to walk to the planet.  Last week, one might have walled-up Manchester while the Acpos were on a feeding frenzy there, and observed whether policing improved in the rest of the country or not (no takers at Ladbrookes on the latter).

Thought experiments can be expressed in questions.  ‘There’s no such thing as a free-lunch.  Critically evaluate’, is an example from economics.  In physics, one might imagine riding on a sunbeam at the speed of light.  The following is one of the most famous from philosophy:

On 7 July 1688 the Irish scientist and politician William Molyneux (1656–1698) sent a letter to John Locke in which he put forward a problem which was to awaken great interest among philosophers and other scientists throughout the Enlightenment and up until the present day. In brief, the question Molyneux asked was whether a man who has been born blind and who has learnt to distinguish and name a globe and a cube by touch, would be able to distinguish and name these objects simply by sight, once he had been enabled to see (see Molyneux’s Problem at Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy on-line

The idea doesn’t have to lead to endless discussion, though academics can turn anything to that – this is, after all, their number one business strategy.  I prefer to think what we can do is make up our questions and then write spreadsheets on the costings and connections implied.  Spreadsheets are associated with business now and statistics used to pretend a certain ‘reality’ prevails, such as dropping crime rates.  They have a prouder heritage than that in my old subject chemistry. I’ll give a quick example of a thought experiment on policing problems.

“Most policing problems in the UK are caused by its antiquated and expensive court system.  Provide examples for and against this and critically evaluate”.

An example I’d give is this.  Joe wakes up in a police station reeking of drink.  He has no idea what has happened to him and assumes he must have got pissed and then in trouble.  He starts to remember he was in the pub and that his shopping bag and mobile phone were stolen by some prat who had been next to him at the bar.  He’d left the pub to look for the guy or his bag, feeling OK, after about 4 pints.  He feels so bad he thinks he may have been drugged and suffered a mugging.  This seems unlikely once he knows his wallet is in police custody and Joe knows he is otherwise ill.  He ends up charged with not paying for a taxi ride he can’t remember.  He has PTSD and does have ‘memories’ of a previous taxi ride with an unlicensed driver ripping him off and is only just beginning to realise this ride was some years ago.  The cops are not nice to him and he refuses to take a caution, wanting to know what has happened to him.  He sees someone from a solicitors’ office and decides to plead not guilty.  The case is adjourned several times whilst reasons to deny him legal aid are deliberated.  Joe turns up to defend himself knowing he has no chance without medical reports that were estimated at £8,500 and a brief at about £1000.  He is given a conditional discharge and has to find £300 costs.  The whole fiasco costs the state £10k.  Had he been awarded legal aid (Joe currently earns nothing as he is ill and setting up his own business), the costs may have totalled £30k or twice as much if he elected for Crown Court.  Joe says he would do this in the unlikely event of such an occurrence in the future, as he has learned just how unfair Magistrates’ Courts are, having been convinced in the first minute of a 5 hour trial that he was ‘pissing in the wind’.  All Joe wanted was to find out what had happened, and he still doesn’t really know.  It is clear in the Magistrates’ summary he would have succeeded had he been able to bring medical evidence.

Surely, we could establish a better system than this.  Yet we would have to consider what any such system might let in, given the legal system is subject to majority use by criminals, not the Joes of this world.  I have seen many cases like this that would fit with a much less formal system of arbitration and evidence giving.  The Dutch even manage this over some rape allegations.  One can see the odious nature of police custody and court appearances might be deterrents, much as lopping off hands and rat-infested dungeons could be, or Sharia Law.

There’s a lot that could be argued.  The costs are ludicrous, and my experience is that all kinds of scrote do get legal aid and must cost us a fortune.  In some countries, I’ve seen drunk-tanks and fines for the ‘over-night stay’.  All kinds of attitudes are involved and probably the dark history of our legal system – one we don’t notice – and even being stuck with and old system that did work, but can’t in modern conditions.  It’s obvious even from this one example that an investigation of non-police costs relates to resources available to policing, because we could spend the money on something else.

In the spirit of thought experiment, we could imagine Joe facing an examining magistrate (not the French kind – they are getting rid of them) when he’s sober/well enough, understanding he was not the victim of some vile taxi driver, admitting reasonable responsibility and paying up for his admittedly unfortunate nuisance.  The real Joe told me all he wanted was to know what had happened and put what he could right if he was responsible.  Despite his PTSD, he would not have wanted to use this as a defence, but he did want it understood.  Even he cannot work out when his incapacitation because of this started in the incident.  Even if he could have afforded the medical and legal representation, he had been told by his brief he would have to lie about how certain he was when this started. We could also imagine Billy Burglar and his mates ripping this system off – though also that they might not be able to do so as easily as they manage in the existing system.  Speed of evidence into court might also be considered, including this new form of initial court’s role in directing investigation and ensuring fairness in record-keeping and civil rights.  Police might find themselves investigating other than as mere prosecutors as tends to be the practice now.

One can also imagine the role of such a court, directly accessible to people facing antisocial crime and a set of agencies doing nothing about it.  Imagine is the start.  We’d need to be able to set the ideas against costs, including the idea of getting ‘more for less’.

I’ve seen estimates that every police attendance at an incident can be costed at around £500.  We could, of course, ‘cost’ every breath a cop takes.  Any officers want to volunteer for the new cost-cutting exercise?  When you design a spreadsheet, rather than just write in or manipulate one, you have to be able to design cells which  contain ‘understandings’ of chains of consequences.  In our typical thinking as dumbheads (my normal state), we might think, say, a Toyota iQ costs £10k.  If they could halve the production costs, they could sell it to us for £5k.  In the world of the simpleton, all is bliss.  The spreadsheet would have all the costs of delivering the iQ to us, most of which (other than say transport insurance) would not change.  We could enter the new factory gate price and the spreadsheet would tell us the iQ (or increased Toyota profits) would now be, say, £8,500.

Though the idea of restricting police officer breaths to save costs is a farce (Acpos take note), I can remember the days of petrol restrictions so severe we couldn’t even drive round our beats in a shift.    Watch out for the new ACO Offshore ‘breather collar’!  Obviously, there are sensible possibilities on fitting the kind of ‘green driving’ gadgets used by many transport companies.  The sensible amongst this should be done and one can see other spreadsheets such as the environmental one would be affected.

I’m after something deeper than this.  Those with memories to stir all know that keeping old people in NHS beds because social services won’t take them because they then become a cost to them, is a miserable example of the kind of behaviour devolved budgets inspire.  It obviously costs more to let this kind of nonsense happen than to do it right.  It also shows what vile bastards we can be in bureaucratic clothing towards those not important.  Cops do their equivalent of this to victims of antisocial crime.  It’s rife across our dumb society and we see its consequences every time a Gary Newlove or Baby P dies.  We brush the ‘minor’ examples under the carpet of false accounting going on and call this ‘best value’ or whatever.  My guess is that these vile practices are rife and every bit as unnecessary as the chronic use of mental institutions in our history, or the implementation of ‘no care in the community’ that replaced it.

Of course, we an’t going to improve things by giving every beat cop Microsoft Excel.  Even worse would be hiring a bunch of cost accountants.  I’ve seen plenty of cops telling us they could do everything the public demands with unlimited resources.  Usually meant as a laugh, this is sometimes dire, patronising excuse.  I await the toilet-cleaning police, needed because of my paranoid fear of terrorist ‘wetties’ (NZ creatures that favour toilet waters)!  Some of what I’m on about is already in practice.  I’ve heard brilliant expositions of systems thinking and practice from senior officers who invited me for a beer rather than champers and chocolate-dipped strawberries.  This has usually been about making crime much more difficult for criminals by seizing and crushing their pools cars and focused efforts on cash-in-transit robberies and the like.  The efforts of beat cops and in ANPR use to remove illegal vehicles and targeting criminals did have crime reduction effects up the line.  Sadly, we know crooks move on to new ventures.  Burglary sweeps may just lead to more ‘borrowing from shops’ and so on.

I’m quite sure from personal experience and talking to victims of dangerous, antisocial criminals that police and local authorities shirk their responsibility towards those they are foisted on or unlucky enough to live near wherever they are allowed to roam.  It’s better to be burgled every now and then than have this type of scum around.  When you meet the officers on the ground, they are nearly all decent people, making this shirking even more difficult to understand.  There is a fatal political boss-class nexus involved and it won’t go away with the death of Nulabour (the body was still kicking when I last passed).  This needs to be addressed, but I’ll stick to the spreadsheet notion for now.

A young lad wandered into our life about 10 years ago, toddling down from his Mum’s house in his nappies.  He was usually intercepted and looked after by our next door neighbour.  Problems at home, obviously.  This was a regular event.  The kid later had to move primary school because of behavioural problems, became a friend of our grandson at his school and had his own classroom assistant.  It’s hard to imagine a better primary school.  He now has a massive attention-seeking problem, is under medication, out of his mother’s control, bullying and being bullied.  He was taken away in a police van not long ago after I had to take a broom handle off him and is doing weird things.  It was clear in the broom-handle incident his younger brother is terrified of him.  He’s been to a special school.  Experienced cops can repeat such stories over and over.  My partner and I think he may be pre-schizophrenic though hope not and wouldn’t say so for fear of some social work loony starting a DMS tick sheet (which is for adults).  He did £200 of damage to our car, which is only a tiny scratch we won’t bother to fix.  His mother is at wits’ end.

There’s an older brother who seems to be a recidivist degenerate.  Whatever is being done isn’t working as any kind of cure – there may be none.  What none of us know is what kind of threat he represents.  I’m knackered these days and didn’t really relish having to take the stick off him (I get pain when I get angry).  Cops had just been, because he was threatening to have some much more violent scum burn our house down and had been the day before over the criminal damage.  He’s 12 and quite nice when he is nice.  Anyway, the stuff about our local arsonist was bull.  What I wonder here is why we can’t properly record and act on these ‘kids going wrong’ and why we don’t have some kind of public spreadsheet on the costs of bungling along as we do, as opposed to more concerted interventions?

Such a spreadsheet would not just be about the development of delinquents and their recovery or lapse into recidivism like Arsonist Annie, her partner Druggie Danny (now 40 plus) and three kids (for whom you can only pray).  It needs to represent the social connections and all the costs, including those borne by the community as losses of quality of life, earnings and in damages.  One might include some kind of net exchequer costing to get to overall losses to the economy, including on-costs and opportunity costs (what we lose by not being able to invest elsewhere).  One might say here, every Acpo is a factory not built, and loads of other jobs lost, over a lifetime – and I suspect every scrote may, surprisingly, be an equal such cost.

This modelling stage of a spreadsheet is by far the most interesting and difficult stage.  Once you have a working model you can footle with it to see what changes look like being really significant, but you can also see the problems in a financial manner very different from that of a CEO ‘saving’ money by getting rid of experience and all kinds of other ways of getting cheaper labour and the rest.  There’s an attitude change possibility here, moving from hiring part-time to evade medical plans, pensions and other on-costs that dump such matters into the world of social benefits paid by taxes.

We hear odd bits of stuff, such as it being ‘cheaper’ (at £60k) to do family intervention than evict (£250k).  This probably isn’t true, and if we had Annie and Danny back we’d want immediate eviction.  They always neglect the financial damage done to victims, and other damages such as health conditions that cause NHS costs and so on.  With all costs represented and the threat of payouts to victims (this is now real in the USA, though putative), the bean-counter has a very different decision to make.  Instead of saving your department or organisation money by allowing victims or other unimportants to bear the costs, you get them in spades for shirking them.  Given your average foetid bean-counter’s ability to leave OAPs in hospital and so on, this should spur some equality between his or her self-interest and the wider public interest.  So is the prognostication of public choice theory, actually being taught in some progressive universities.

I’ll finish without development of the model.  This will be tough, but it’s not a castle-in-the-air.  We already do something like it.  The reason we can’t effectively complain or sue our local authorities and cops is that the treasury is scared to death it would open flood-gates because they are so bad!  Our legal system will allow a mad rich person to sue over almost anything, but not people let down by cops and local authorities.  All the targets and performance management of such organisations could be swept away by providing legal aid to investigate and sue them.  Someone knows something, as this is a disallowed practice.

Such a spreadsheet can only be built as a thought experiment at the moment, perhaps blogged and botched together to start.  It is a practical possibility.  A start could be made by offering low-level crime to be dealt with by new courts run without lawyers or judges (remember just how hard lawyers clung to their high cost conveyancing?) with new forms of rehab and punishment.  There must be data on this we could experiment with. is a good example of the frustrations victims experience.  There is much better technology than blogs to get hold of some of the essential data not being collected because it doesn’t suit those in power.  We could set up a site that used some kind of ‘spank-out a survey’ method and use Googletalk to follow up more personally.  It would also be possible to ‘talk in confidence’ to officers in the relevant agencies without their bosses getting in the way (as they do by commissioning irrelevant general surveys by IPSOS Mori and others that are little better than ‘happy sheets’ that are directed to people with no experience of the organisations).  It should be possible (and this should already be being done) to get a lot of casework detail from all sides to build the picture.  That organisations like police forces are not already doing this with the universities is a scandal.

Taking some guesses on Arson Annie and Druggie Danny, they will have been costing the State a fortune for 25 years.  Neither has worked legally, so there would be:

1. 25 year’s of benefits for them (mostly ‘disability’ and housing benefit) and child benefits for three.  They had full Motability at one time, though neither are actually disabled.  A modest estimate here is £300k.

2. 25 by 100 police and related agency visits at £300 each.  £750k?

3. 5 years gaol time.  Say £180k.

4. Tax losses because they have always been idle.  Say £125k.

5. Losses of their housing etc. to others and damages to others through violence, harassment, drug-dealing, burglaries and so on.

6. The capital that could have been established by not having to lose any of the above.

7. Lawyers’costs and court costs.  Annie and Dannie cost £120,ooo in 2008/9 alone (eviction and serious crimes defence).

8. Their ‘Fagin’ costs in training others and encouraging a local crime network.

9. A pension they have never contributed to.

All this could be accurately estimated.  How many times over throughout the country?  We could also see where the money is going.  People receiving it could be more gainfully employed creating stuff.  They have been state-sponsored criminals for at least 25 years.  Should we be able to sue the State?  What would your guesstimate on their costs to our society be?

The modelling is fraught with complexity.  Imagine will kill and bury 100,000 of our persistent offenders with minimal bullet and burial costs and that this lot cost the same as Annie and Dannie a year.  There might be a boom time for undertakers.  What does this take from the lawyer economy and how many prison officers, cops and social workers can be redeployed?  This is only a thought experiment and our spreadsheet would show many changes.  House building might become unnecessary, but a temporary boom in home refurbishment might spring up as their vandalised former homes were released to the market.  Employment for store security guards might weaken.  Local shops might return to profit.  I hope you get the idea by now.  We might need more than Excel, but could go cubing with that or fix a database. Soon, we’d know what kind of cull would produce which effects with what financial consequences.  It does strike me that being able to demonstrate cull versus rehabilitation costs would give the tax payer some kind of decision-making edge, and making this public might well have a motivational effect on the scumbags to seek reform or join our new foreign legion.

Of course, the thought experiment cull is just to shock, perhaps to the realisation of what the creation of an underclass costs us.  We should remember though that the Athenian Democracy killed a whole island of people to get more productive grain harvests because its treasury was empty.  The Domesday Book is almost as bad (shifting swathes of workers to more productive land).  The Scottish enclosures were about sheep being more productive to landowners than people.  There are many more recent examples.  RA Fisher (my statistics hero) thought we would breed ourselves to idiocy over a few generations if we did not sterilise the ‘subnormal’.  His statistics were wrong.  We cull through war and are culled by disease and so on.  I ain’t advocating any of this.  The world population has tripled in my lifetime and this ain’t no good thing.  There are issues we need to dread from thinking about them, rather than avoid in our soggy entertainment.  Much of our problematic population is an on cost and self-perpetuating one.  Annie and Dannie have hidden in open view of anyone except the relevant authorities, behind kids and their apparent care for them.  A care which vanishes behind closed doors, where they were trained for prostitution and screamed for food at meal times.  They got to watch Mummy and Daddy beat each other everyday.  They were being arrested from 14 onwards.  Quite what the answers are I don’t know, but we do need shock therapy to engage with the problem.

Politicians lie to us about it all.  They appeal to us through advancing age all cures that always failed this group, such as hard work and education.  These are really appeals to our own egos, in which we see ourselves as having achieved through more than accident of birth – just as social mobility has declined.  We like to think we are middle class on merit and that anyone who tries hard as we did will make it.  Take one in ten of us out of our jobs and the economy will not collapse.  These cuts may be upon us if the ConDem gamble goes wrong.  We’ll be lucky if it don’t.

Those of us who have suffered these bastards next door, trashing the park opposite and the rest may want cops to arrive quickly and to get rid of the problems like pest exterminators.  We are sick of cops and local authority workers, mostly their bosses, lying to us about ‘solutions’ and successes and a press that is preened as surely as any poodle exiting the canine beauticians shop.  Yet I suspect we know the truth needs out, so that we can work on the real problems together, including knowledge of what the resources are and who is getting them.  The politicians don’t care to solve the problems, only to exploit them as the hero-talkers of promises they will only meet by setting up someone else to take the blame, making them in turn lie.

I hate to say this, but the spreadsheet might save us from the current enemies of the open society. Inspector Gadget is right. Elected police chiefs may just be the next patsies set up in the blame fire.  We should all have seen The Wire.  What we need is the information in open hands.  This is the very stuff they have manipulated for their own purposes.  That this is urgent can be seen from the fact rehabilitation costs so much it might just be better to give the money to the trouble-makers and let them go to Spain to live.

I do not know, off-hand, what percentage of the criminal justice budget policing is.  Anyone else know?  If we want it, we should just be able to whistle.  It’s difficult to know why most of support paying taxes for legal aid as 95% of us won’t get it if we need it.  For many of us, this means we are actually funding the legal aid of our very tormentors and this paying for a service we would never approve.


8 thoughts on “Thought Experiments on Policing

  1. What do you mean, “the Lord turned out to be a cat”?

    There will be no escape in passing spacecraft from this planet Neil. Humanity has to get to grips with the damage it is doing to the planet and find ways to put things right, regarding the environment. People have recently woken up and are starting to take the problems seriously and apply a bit of positive and creative thinking to them.

    However, there are people in power and politics who are bumbling along down a dangerous road and failing to learn the lesson of what is a good idea, and what is not. I’m thinking here of Nuclear power stations, which some believe are the solution to energy needs of the future.

    After the Chernobyl disaster, one would hope that some common sense would prevail, but no such luck on that issue. The Nuclear Industry appear to think that they can have it all under control. They fail to consider the toxic legacy of the nuclear waste from the power plants, that they will leave for future generations….Madness!

    Regarding the notion of a “cull” of the underclass, who many say are just a drain upon the state and tax-payers, who support them. There are dark forces in the world, some of whom have no regard for the fact that the unfortunate souls who come into the catagory of “underclass”, are human beings, not rabbits or some other animal who raids the farmers field for some food.

    It always makes me feel very uncomfortable when I read callous comments on other blogs, about the unemployed and the sick on “Incapacity” benefits, who are regarded by some as “oxygen thieves”. State employees have neither the right nor the authority to decide who is worthy of life and who is not. A civilized society looks after the vulnerable ones within it, in a humane manner.

    I don’t agree with the Tory attitude of whipping the poor so hard, as they intend to do, despite what they claim in the media. Their plans for welfare “reform” could end up COSTING a great deal in many other areas, due to increased crime – police time and wages, and possible riots and public disorder.

    Bashing the unemployed and the sick, whilst making cuts in public spending, resulting in job losses and rising unemployment, has always been an unpleasant Tory policy.
    And this time around, despite the slightly moderating effect of the LibDems upon the government policy, the Cons are determined to commit billions to a future replacement of Trident… a time when the U.N is making a real effort to reduce the number of Nuclear weapons in the world. To me, that is a scandal, and wrong.

  2. Mrs Magoo – this is quite brilliant. The ‘Lord’ and ‘Towel’ references are to ‘The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Universe’.

    One of the questions people who think as we do need to ask is why anyone else thinks differently. I don’t mean on the colour of the curtains or what constitutes a good night out, or even whether we believe in god/s or not.

    What we need is an open understanding of ‘dirty hands politics’, so we don’t sound naive to those who think we need to keep our necks out in front in the arms race through economics. The world population has tripled since I was a kid, just as my own people learned to restrict this mad growth. Some even believe this population growth requires we stay ahead in weaponry. All this and much more needs to be on the table in open discussion. Then we might be able to get into the good sense you put forward.

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