Juking the stats

The Wire (official “best tv series ever”) shows how the need to mess about with statistics distorts the nature of policing. It’s called something impenetrable like “juking the stats” (duking? jooking? dooking? On the basis of a brief Googling, I went with juking as it seems to mean “being deceptive”.)

The drive to constantly improve crime figures – numbers of crime and clear up rates – leads to several wrong-headed initiatitives, such as harrassing large numbers of people for petty misdemeanours in pointless swoops and attempting to ignore the existence of large numbers of bodies left by Stansfield’s crew.

As in art, so in life, to add yet another cliche to the “crimes against cliche use” tally in this blog’s statistics. British police are now protesting about the distortions created by the drive to improve statistics.

I am quoting from the BBC website here:

Frontline police officers are calling for an end to the “target-driven culture” they say is forcing them to make arrests for petty offences.
The Police Federation of England and Wales says government targets lead to “ludicrous” decisions such as arresting a child for throwing a cucumber slice.
Detectives are being diverted away from serious cases, it also warns.

Police officers’ performance is judged on such things as the number of arrests and on-the-spot fines. Hence, the Police Federation can list dozens of absurd arrests for things like possession of an egg with intent to throw it.

Ian Curtis’s recent tv programmes (“The Trap“) showed how targets had driven some NHS staff into a series of absurd actions, such as relabelling corridors as wards or arranging appointments for when patients were away on holiday.

There have to be some measures by which one can evaluate the effectiveness of public services. However, on the evidence, focussing on indicators that are easily measurable and making the targets so rigid seem bound to lead to a deterioration in the quality of services.

Policing that ties up officers in gathering large numbers of petty arrests doesn’t only divert attention from serious offences, as argued by the members of the Police Federation and demonstrated fictionally in the Wire. It increases the numbers of people who have no respect for the law. It creates criminals. Good policemen lose heart while the higher ranks are increasingly populated by ambitious jobsworths.

Ironically, given that highly constrictive public service targets were originally the product of Conservative governments, the Tory Shadow Home Secretary claims that the Conservatives would free the police from “red tape.” Maybe, I’m being paranoid here, but doesn’t this sound more like removing constraints rather than abandoning targets?)

[tags]Police, Policing, Law Enforcement, Law, Government, clearup-rates, crime, crime-figures, ian-curtis, public-service-targets, society, statistics, targets, the-wire[/tags]

1 thought on “Juking the stats

  1. This smacks of the Managerialist approach to policing 🙂

    The problem (as I see it) stems from the public perception of policing. The media (and politicians, and police to some extent) make a big deal about low occurance crimes, demanding that the police do more to prevent crime. In our society we love to have league tables and see which force is arresting the most bad people (which is what we pay them for), so statistical collections were inevitable.

    The problem with it is, as you say, the police can hammer the stats with lots of low impact but high occurance offence arrests. The public see that Force X have made a zillion arrests so their police must be doing something right… (Any readers from the North East?).

    A force which spent time and effort on crime prevention would eventually lose out in the budgets, less arrests means the force must need less money…

    Crazy system but as far as I can see, unsolvable.

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