The public presentation of crime statistics only marks the problem

The crime statistics that the media feed on come from police-recorded crime and the British Crime Survey done by a commercial company that does market research.  Neither form passes academic muster, and the commercially produced BCS does not provide a foil against the gaming or juking of police recorded crime.  The problem lies in the defining of crime and not in a petty, semantic way.

What one wouldn’t want to do in critique is to knock the work of groups of officers putting in the hard yards.  Few sharp-end officers believe the figures, but do think, correctly I think, that tough work put in on burglary sweeps and targeting persistent offenders does deter the crime so defined.

Putting money and other resources into a problem does tend to work.  Experiments in ‘police by objectives’ show this, and, generally, expose the tendency of crime not to be eradicated but to shift, flexibly, away from what and where targeted.  Burglars move to ‘borrowing from shops’, drug-dealers from street corners to mobile phone delivery, cash-in-transit robbers across force or project areas and so on.  It’s all a bit like sticking your finger in the dyke, only to find leaks springing up somewhere else as the pressure finds its way out.  Diversity watchers should note I in no way imply any aggravated role of lesbians in crime by this …

One obvious consequence of a real drop in crime and criminality would be the standing down of substantial numbers of police.  The reverse has been happening for many years, and only perverse economics seems responsible for current cuts, which are across the public sector.  We would expect pressure across our criminal justice system to drop, resources to be shifted towards growing anti-social behaviour and so on.  One would not expect a burgeoning of police-like services across our commercial and other sectors (as police would be dealing with any problems and these sectors would not perceive risk and devote resources).  The private security industry has been a major growth area.

In the statistics system itself, we would expect sophisticated models to have been developed with very substantial operational effect and use in public debate and political planning and policies.  We get the same old guff now as when I was a boy.

If we explored any of the cases of poor policing (and other agency failure) that have briefly made the news – say the Pilkington or Askew cases – we would find wholesale failures to record crimes against the victims.  I see no attempt made to do anything like this – something essential to statistical modelling long before one starts with any of the arithmetic jargon.

One would also expect to see ‘crime falls’ associated with spending on security, insurance premiums and pay outs, speed in the justice system … have your house and car insurance premiums fallen of late?  If the headlines are right, ‘car crime’ is escalating.

Statistics, other than bulldung kept by States since the Athenian Democracy (where the treasury was bare to the tune of very significant decimal places), are supposed to provide a ‘mechanical view’ of what is going on, correlations between this and that (as in smoking and health).  They can and do – what we should be asking about British crime statistics is why they don’t in any meaningful, clear manner.

One place to start is in detail and the collection of ‘raw data’ (technically, nothing is ‘raw’, but we can tell the difference between observations that are scientific or bulldung).  There are lots of ways to do this and one I would exclude – that is any that followed the ludicrously expensive routes of university or commercial models of “research”.  Last time I checked, I was supposed to cost a PhD student out at £95K a year under full economic costing.  FEC that!  Anyway, if these high on the hog riders were any good, we’d have had the answers long ago.  One suspects highly overpaid wankers aren’t just to be found in bwanks, ACPO and soccer teams.

We could do this ourselves.  I can give you a quick example.  Imagine how many crimes were committed against Mr. Askew or the Pilkingtons.  The ask how many people are in a band of similar positions at a given time.  You won’t know, which is relevant.  Let’s say there are 100,000 people in similar positions (what would our guess be reading Gadget or other evil poor “exposers”?) and crimes are committed against them twice a week but not recorded.  That’s 200,000 unrecorded crimes a week or10,000,000 a year.  10 million bullying threats (which are assaults), bits of meanly intended, harassing criminal damage, stealing of the kids dinner money and so on.

Live next door to ‘evil poor’ or as a disabled or otherwise vulnerable person where they are active, and you’d almost certainly find out it’s all much worse.  I can vouch that it is and find others who have had the experience, and over much more obviously serious matters.  One can be an indirect victim of crime, subject, say, to noise harassment due to junkies or some of the revolting stuff abused children get up to – even down to the level of being deprived of services due to wastage on ‘evil poor recipients’.

Those of us used to the routines of statistical process control can only look aghast at drops in the burglary column (or across the board) when there is no explanation of where the ‘energy’ is going.  What this type of ‘statistics’ demonstrate is that we are functionally incapable in them as a public and that it is not in the interests of our political class to do anything about it.


1 thought on “The public presentation of crime statistics only marks the problem

  1. Pingback: The dichotomy of bean counting management « The Bankside Babble

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