Figures Lie and Liars Figure

Figures lie and liars figure. Measuring police performance or bias by computing numbers doesn’t work. It didn’t work in the 1970’s with the Kansas City patrol study. James Q Wilson, noted for his study of crime and policing, noted in Crime and Human Nature statistics didn’t tell the whole story. The link discusses the latest statistical hack job on LAPD.

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best, or was it Benjamin Disraeli?

Statistics chart a reported result, but not the circumstances that led to the result. In the 1970’s the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) gave the Kansas City money to study the efficiency of patrol operations.

The study went like this. Three patrol districts (A,B,C) with similar demographics and crime rates were identified. Patrol district A was the control. Life went on as usual. Routine patrol was suspended in patrol district B. Officers would enter B only in response to calls for service and leave upon completion of the call. In patrol district C, patrols were doubled. At the end of the study period the crime statistics were tabulated.

There was no change in district A. The crime rate dropped in district B. In district C the crime rate increased.

Aha, said the eggheads! This is proof positive that patrol operations don’t work. Stupid is as stupid does. Any cop, who is worth a shit, can point out the flaw in the plan and the conclusion reached. Police activity is not just about calls for service. A large portion of police activity is self initiated, by the officer. Crime went down in district B because the police weren’t there to intervene. It went up in district C because there were more officers to observe and intervene.

James Q Wilson came up with the “Broken Windows Theory.” Basically, what it says is that police intervention in enforcing minor violations accomplishes two things. It sends the message to the turds that somebody is watching. Secondly, it reassures the public that their neighborhood is safe. A feeling of safety puts more people on the street. More people on the street means more witnesses to potential criminal activity. Potential witnesses further discourage criminal activity.

It was an accepted fact that economic disadvantage led to increased criminal activity. James Q Wilson came along in 1985 and cast aspersions on the conventional wisdom. He reported in Crime and Human Nature that a survey of petty criminals revealed that most of them could make a better living working for minimum wage. The profits from their criminal activity were less than if they worked at McDonald’s full time.

My own experience confirms that criminal activity is not just governed by economic gain. Full time work at McDonald’s requires a forty hour commitment, adherence to a schedule, taking instructions from a supervisor and conforming to rules. These requirements cut into time to hang out, sleep until noon and do as you damn well please. There is very little status in being a fry cook. A small time dope dealer can lord his status over his customers. Measure those factors in a survey.

Typically, when the reader runs across statistics it is the form of a final report. Unreported is the sample size, the construction of the model, and the raw data. Without this information the reported result should be treated as suspect.

Here is an example of statistical manipulation that bears no resemblance to reality. One police department I worked for tracked officer activity. Two of the benchmarks that were particularly important were, “on-sight” and offenses reported. On-sight activity is an officer initiated action. Offenses were classified as either misdemeanor or felony crimes or ordinance violations.

I worked for a sergeant who was a coward. He ducked calls or arrived after the scene was secure. If he made a traffic stop, the driver was almost always over sixty and female. He did not stop minorities, fit looking white males or groups of juveniles. Month in and month out he was one of the leaders in productivity.

His secret? The city had an ordinance against posting signs on the right of way and on utility poles. Technically, posting an offending sign, in that manner, was a misdemeanor violation. Each night he would patrol the city snatching up signs from the right of way and tearing them off utility poles. Each instance resulted in a “case number” and stats for both on-sight and misdemeanor enforcement activity. To the Chief, he was a hero.

Over the past several years I have conducted a survey of telephone survey takers. The survey has one question and acceptable responses are either yes or no. Based on responses I have received, I can report 100% of telephone survey takers are sexual deviants. The question:

Have you stopped fucking German Shepards?