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?