The Criminal use and abuse of Crime Statistics

British Crime Survey Violence Rates (1981-2009)
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BBC News (Jan 2011): “Recorded crime in England and Wales fell 7% in the year to the end of September 2010… There were falls in all main categories of crime, except sexual offences which were up by seven per cent. But the British Crime Survey, which asks people about their experiences, rather than what the police record, suggested burglaries rose by 9%…” (Read more)

Given these figures are “not statistically significant” according to ‘officials’, there’s no need to worry or read anything into them, is there? If that is right, why do they keep getting produced? What use do they actually serve? Have you noticed how the figures suggest crime keeps falling year on year?

BBC News (Jan 2010): Crime in England and Wales fell 8% in the third quarter of 2009 compared with the year before, the Home Office says. (Read more)

Must be something to do with us having governments who are ‘tough on crime’ maybe? Could it be some of us are fortunate enough to live in an area policed by an excellent Chief Constable and his/her supremely efficient team perhaps? Funny how Chiefs and politicians nearly always predict the fall in crime correctly? Strange that ‘prediction’ is often aligned to the percentage rates they previously promised? I suppose it just goes to ‘prove’ how good they are at their jobs and how lucky we are… Shame on me for doubting them or their methods, eh?

In statistics, a result is called statistically significant if it is unlikely to have occurred by chance. Not many of the statistics produced by government and police forces (and the remaining public sector agencies), are ever left to chance. They are cleverly manipulated and presented in a manner to ‘prove’ what the chief’s want us to believe (see here). This methodology is in reality futile and pointless. Many people don’t care a jot about the figures or for that matter, actually understand the numbers placed in front of them. The data is left to further assessment and more manipulation by the media. ‘Experts’ who then proceed to produce their own set of journalistic, editorial and political opinion about the results.

There is a general perception that statistical knowledge is all-too-frequently intentionally misused by finding ways to interpret only the data that are favorable to the presenter. The famous saying, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics(

These people who often don’t understand the data, are the people who make up the communities in our society and are the actual victims of these crime figures. It is not just data on a spreadsheet to be played with in an attempt to curry political popularity or, for calculating the size of management bonus payments.

So, if crime figures (as currently produced) actually had any real value, why do people always think things are worse than they actually are? Fore some time now politicians and senior police officers have worried about this factor. Manipulation of crime data is failing to realise the levels of popularity they aspire to. They now resort to devoting more time and effort into PR spin to convince the public they actually aren’t seeing and suffering from the crime, anti-social behaviour and poor service they think they are. The public perception and reality divide is an issue they constantly struggle to address.

Meanwhile another major reality in policing is; the actions being taken by Chief Officers to implement public sector austerity measures. Given that salary expenditure takes the lion’s share of the budgets, constraint is tending to equal job losses. Dependant upon which class of seat you have on the Public Sector Gravy Train, or which side of the political fence you reside, usually dictates the figures and statistics you chose to take cognisance of.

BBC News: As many public sector workers, and plenty of people elsewhere, experience a “freeze” on pay, Michael Blastland explains in his regular column why that does not necessarily prevent wages appearing to rise… (Read more)

The Office of National Statistics have produced an article which considers the likely (realistic) effects on public sector Average Weekly Earnings (AWE), short-term estimates of the recently announced public sector pay freeze and other planned spending cuts. (Download .pdf)

Perhaps the time has arrived where crime figures have to be presented in a more factual and realistic manner, free from clever manipulation and presentation. We need to see the raw data of all legally defined crime recorded as such. No ‘sanctioned detection’ or ‘statistical’ interpretation. After all, a crime is a crime and a victim is a victim, not just when a politician or police chief says it is.

6 thoughts on “The Criminal use and abuse of Crime Statistics

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