Information is power! OR is it?

statistics often lie
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The government say they are ’empowering’ the people (again) by providing them with information. Data that allows them to make informed decisions and/or hold public agencies to account (apparently), when something is wrong or they have failed in some way.

Many people (me included) have already had problems gaining access to the new government Crime Mapping Website at apparently this is due to “heavy use” and the government weren’t prepared for the level of site traffic (unsurprisingly).

Policing Minister Nick Herbert told BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme that the website had been receiving 75,000 hits per minute.

Street level crime maps launched: New online crime maps for England and Wales have been launched, allowing users to see which offences have been reported in their local streets. Home Secretary Theresa May said the maps would give real facts and make police more accountable. (BBC News)

It remains to be seen if this “heavy use” is simply idle interest for something new or a tool that will actually be of use to the public in the future. If they do find it useful, the question begs to be asked; to what use will it actually be put? I feel sure that a large proportion of those initial 75,000 ‘hits’ per minute will tail off very quickly and, most of the current ‘users’ will be journalists, social commentators, pundits and cynics who are just pulling it to bits maybe? There will be those who attempt to use it in the spirit it was intended however, as with all statistical data it is open to debate and interpretation (see previous post).

It is a well-known and well researched fact that; recorded crime figures, both in the UK and further afield, have very little correlation with actual crime levels. In the 2nd part of his comprehensive series on crime statistics entitled Crime is down – Or is it? The author of the Thin Blue Line Blog adds further to the debate about the actual ‘value’ of our published crime statistics and, the almost criminal manipulation of the base data by politicians and senior police officers…

Over recent years, every Tom, Dick and Harry involved in the compilation, manipulation and obfuscation of crime statistics have thrown their hats and helmets in the air to celebrate a steady fall in crime. The Home Office boasted it was… (Read more)

When we get past our Chief Constables or Government Ministers ‘cooking the books’ and ‘spinning’ the results for personal gain, just sometimes they are actually held to account for their failings. It happens very infrequently but when it does, some abdicate responsibility as quick as possible and some actually hold up their hands, protest their innocence and vow they “will learn the lessons”…

Judgement on the facts would be fine – if we ever got them: …What we get instead of open public scrutiny, is “promises” – promises to learn lessons and all the other lying jive of 10-day MBA-speak that should lead to instant dismissal not promotion… (Read more)

Interesting that many local authorities and police forces have been quick to issue press releases to placate and pacify the public. They obviously felt a need for some quickly invented valid reasons as to why crime in a particular area of their borough looks so bad. Irrespective of the base data validity and whether the local council or police are responsible for the crime rate; there are also concerns about the level of data published and how it relates to personal issues and information…

BBC Report: A spokesman for charity Victim Support said it was important that victims of crime had consented as to whether information about their incident was released… (Read more)

One of the unfortunate side effects of crime data is; police managers tend to use it to, more or less exclusively, direct the limited proactive/reactive police resources. If you live in an urban area, you are more likely to see a uniformed police presence than you would if you live in a rural one, with less ‘recorded’ crime. This methodology almost prevents any application of the tried and tested ‘Peelian Principle’“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it” i.e. ‘prevention is better than cure’, a factor highlighted by one of the most prolific and well read police bloggers.

Insp. Gadget: I predict a rapid withdrawal of the few police officers and PCSO’s that still exist, from the areas where no crimes are shown, to the areas where a large amount of crime is shown. Yet again, the criminal underclass who report each other for spurious or vengeful petty nonsense on a daily basis will receive all the public services, while the silent majority who pay for it all will get none. (Read more)

The government say they are simply providing a “tool” that will “empower” the people to take “informed” action when “holding the police to account”. They also expect the public reaction to the crime mapping project to be “positive” and denied the information could increase fear or drive down house prices in some areas.

There is a saying that goes; “Information is power” but, when that information is basically flawed and open to misinterpretation, is it really anything more than another expensive PR gimmick?

4 thoughts on “Information is power! OR is it?

  1. Excellent piece again Mr G.

    Thanks for the mention… It’s quite timely that the new site was launched yesterday, just as we’re telling the public to have no faith in recorded crime!

    Having finally got onto the site overnight (sad eh?), I managed to extrapolate the December totals for each force from the data upload section. Early days yet, but my first thoughts are : pretty looking but slow and of doubtful worth.

    I also note with some disappointment that its predecessor site has been removed and all links now take you to the new site.

    The maps.police site (albeit a couple of months in arrears) provided the preceding 3 months crime stats by the same groups, then compared them to the same 3 months in the prior year so you could at least see if the totally bent stats were as totally bent or mor totally bent than the previous year. We could at least see if their bent-ness was getting worse!!

    Also, the maps.police site had a link to the detections website, this time illustrating how they were not only “totally bent” but by frigging detections as well they could now really take the p*** and be “wickedly bent”. (It does make you wonder if the are academic qualifications they must take to finally be declared Chief and grand master of all that perpetrate bent-ness.

    The serious point behind all this is that they have decreased accountability not increased it by downing the old site. Flawed as it was, based on under recorded or manipulated numbers, (as is the new site), it at least enabled easy comparison with previously submitted numbers.

    I can’t help thinking that £300,000 seems a lot to pay “Rock Kitchen Whoever they are” in Nottingham to create and maintain the site suffed with dodgy data. It might distract the initial public eye away from the truth, that crime has never gone down to the proportions they would have us believe. Ultimately though the basic GIGO principle of Garbage IN = Garbage OUT applies.

    I would have thought the first priority would have been to restore confidence in the recorded crime statistics first by cleansing the process of all of its flaws and removing all opportunities and motivations (financial) to continue “Cooking the Books”. Once the slate was clean, start afresh with a recording process based on common sense and transparency, whatever that throws to the surface. Only then should they start chucking these jolly little applications into the public arena.

    As it is, when the can of worms finally comes off the “Crime of the Century – Years of Fudged Crime Stats”, it will seriously undermine the value of crime mapping in the eyes of the public.

    All the best mate
    Thin Blue Line Uk


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