Now here’s a thing. Police Officer and staff numbers are falling. With regard to staff, quite a lot actually. Leaving warranted officers to carry out the humungous number of tasks and swathes of paperwork previously carried out by support staff / civilian staff / police staff – whatever your force wants to call them today. Either way, a practical, viable, most under-appreciated part of the police ‘family’ has more or less gone; been ‘streamlined’; been cut; been slashed more efficiently than if Sweeny Todd had done it with a brand new razor.
On top of that, police control rooms are being cut, centralised, merged, whatever todays fancy buzzword is, reducing that one piece of the vital link you can’t rent down at Pertemps – local knowledge. Leaving dispatchers staring at a map screen sometimes woefully out of date, trying to guide an officer, also not familiar with the area because the local nick has been closed, as has the next nearest one, to a new estate that’s not actually on the maps yet because they haven’t been updated, where goodness knows what terrible crime is occurring as nothing can be deciphered above the screaming and shouting on the end of the very patchy mobile phone line.
From a frontline officers point of view, many will say crime is not falling, and they are busier than ever. No doubt some of this will be because fewer officers are attending a larger number of incidents, so on an individual basis, they do have an increased workload – some officers say their numbers on response teams have been halved (or even worse) in recent times.
But hang on, the figures show that ‘frontline officer numbers’ have not been cut. in some cases they have allegedly gone up. This amounts to no more than interpretation of that word ‘frontline’ again.
From the guy or girl in the streets perspective, ‘frontline’ tends to mean the number of police available to respond when they call for help, in an emergency or otherwise.
From a ‘police management’ perspective ‘frontline’ also includes other departments that also have a public facing role. Are CID frontline ? Yes …. and No. Are Local Policing Teams frontline ? Yes … and No. Are specialist units (what’s left of them) frontline ? Yes …. and No. It’s all very fudgy. What is clear is that a number of officers from whichever department you select, are spending an increasing amount of time sinking under paperwork and enquiries that previously were carried out by the ever-helpful support staff who are no longer there … but they are still ‘frontline’.
But here’s another thing. Crime IS falling. Despite all this. Despite all the cuts. The Office of National Statistics says so, by an average 7% as well (more here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23354168). And many excited journalists form a variety of newspapers and news websites are happily tippy typing away to spread the good news.
So all is rosy under the apple tree.
Or is it ?
The thing about statistics is this; if you ask the right questions, you get to determine the answers. If you ask the right questions of the right people, you get the right answers. Many moons ago when I worked out there in the real world, I was involved in Marketing for a period, and statistics, or rather, the manipulation of statistics, were a very important part of the role. It was our job to come up with the results that supported whatever argument was being presented. But without of course doing anything underhand.
Say for example, (and this is of course completely hypothetical) you wanted to know if peoples pet cats preferred Brand A or Brand B cat food.
Now what you are not going to do is ask the cats – chances are whichever options you give the answer would be ‘they both taste yuk, give me a mouse or a sparrow any day’. But that won’t give your client the answer they wanted to be able to boldly proclaim their product is the best of the best of the best !
So you have to look for different approaches …. and that tends to involve asking real life members of the public for their views. Now quite what Billy Bloggs knows about the palatable habits of Minky the pet moggie is beyond me and is most likely beyond the capability of the said interviewee (unless of course he has recently been in some sort of erotic encounter with CatWoman and as a result now has the ability to converse in all feline dialects (never say never) !! The cat, for its part, will eat whatever you put in front of it if it’s hungry.
The simplest, proper, scientific way to answer the question would be to carry out taste test on the entire cat population of the UK, (which if you are interested by the way, is estimated at around 8 million) over a period of time to allow for natural fluctuation in feeding habits etc. That approach however, is slightly impractical, if not a tad over the miniscule budget we were given to come up with the right answer … or rather the ‘preferred’ answer, so you have to go to plan B … which involves asking the cat owners.
So you sent some people out onto the High Street with clipboards to stop and harass a large number of poor innocent members of the public going about their daily basis to quiz them on their pets eating habits. of course you don’t !! We can’t waste time and money on anything so random. What you do is have people with clipboards stood outside supermarkets and pet shops, actively (for that read selectively) pouncing on people exiting the said store with boxes/tins of cat food – a credible targeted approach you may say – what’s wrong with that ?
But what if for the four week period before and during the market research, the manufacturer of ‘Brand A’ has been running a national advertising promotion and discounting on their products thereby ensuring sales are increasing and customers are more aware of their brand. Statistically therefore, a large percentage of the buying public will have already purchased their product, AND be in a more positive frame of mind because they’ve seen the happy cat pictures on the telly AND they’ve saved a considerable amount of money on an essential purchase.
Now you ask that person whether their cat prefers Brand A or Brand B – what do you think the answers will be ?
Not very accurate is the correct answer … but on paper Brand A is the bees knees.
But what does that have to do with policing. Well, not a lot directly. But it demonstrates in a clear and simple fashion how statistics cannot be replied on one little bit. There is a very famous phrase, attributed to the 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Further, in a letter to the National Observer published June 13, 1891, p. 93(-94) regarding a debate on pensions (now there’s a thing), the writer says: “Sir,–It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics. It is on statistics and on the absence of statistics that the advocate of national pensions relies…..”
It seems that things haven’t really changed with the passage of time. The only people who believe statistics are those that stand to benefit from them.
I digress. back to policing. Yesterday I tweeted “Remember, if you don’t have the staff,you dont do the raid,you don’t find the drugs factory,nothing recorded,so less staff means less crime!”. That got retweeted quite a lot – a heck of a lot actually ! It may be a bit basic or simplistic, but in essence it’s a simple fact – if you don’t know it’s there, it hasn’t happened.
There are all sorts of stories bounding about all over the country about pressures being put on police officers to ‘carefully consider’ the way incidents are dealt with. Now I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of the comments and I’m sure a lot of officers would not put their head above the parapets for fear of retribution, so let’s just refer to these suggestions as wild, speculative, uncorroborated, unconfirmed rumours :
The Friday/Saturday night drunks, shouting, swearing and being an absolute pain threatening all and sundry, refusing to go home and behave. Locked up Section 5, Public Order Act. EEEEKK !! hang on, that’s recordable as a violent crime. Bad for the figures you know ! In the morning when they are sober, give ‘em a ticket or caution for Drunk & Disorderly. there’s a detection there so the good figures have gone up. AND D&D is not a recordable offence, so the bad figures have gone down at the same time – everyone’s a winner – aren’t they ??
There are some suggesting problems trying to record Attempted Burglaries … “How can you be sure it’s not just a criminal damage to the door/window ?” …. “well they used a flipping lock snapping device for a start !” – “Could it have been kids playing football and the ball has gone through a window ?” … “it’s a ninth floor flat” – and so they go on.
Criminal damage to motor vehicles – “How do we know it isn’t RTC damage from a passing vehicle ?” (again not recordable) …. “erm, the footprints over the bonnet, roof and boot perhaps ?”
There are many, many other examples I’ve been given but again, nothing can be proved – its all rumour, but statistically speaking, what are the chances of all of it being made up ?
So, what have we learnt ? Well, if you want to run a good news story, or a bad news story, you just need some statistics. The same ones will do – it just depends on how you word it to meet your particular needs. It may well be the case for Brand Y that 54% of people ‘preferred their product’ of the two but if you are marketing Brand Z it’s just as positive to say ‘statistics prove almost half of all people prefer our brand’
By the way, if you are ill or injured, best to go home because statistically speaking you are more likely to die in hospital than anywhere else …. and if its Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Years day, the statistics say your chances of survival are even lower !!
And here’s a good question for you – why don’t we all drive round in bright yellow cars ?? Statistically they are they safest colour to drive !! (or is it just because there’s less of them about ?) … ohh and don’t buy a red car – statistically you’re more likely to get a speeding ticket ! (but then red is one of the most common colours) (more here http://www.arnoldclark.com/newsroom/124-revealed-britain-s-most-popular-car-colours)
I shall leave you with a quote by another equally famous person “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything. 14% of people know that.” – Homer J Simpson.