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Here’s an idea, ask the expert

Written By: - Date published: 12:29 am, October 2nd, 2008 - 33 comments
Categories: crime, election 2008 - Tags:

Don’t take it from me. Certainly don’t take it from a National hack, who despite being a professional statistician, is too dishonest to even adjust his stats for population growth. No, listen to the Assistant Police Commissioner explain (in a measured and charmingly earnest tone) the details and meaning of the latest crime stats here.

33 comments on “Here’s an idea, ask the expert ”

  1. Rex Widerstrom 1

    Steve, you’re seriously holding up the Police as the unimpeachable arbiter of their own statistics?

    My entire long and unpleasant relationship with the police began when I was editor of a community newspaper and the younger brother of a friend came into my office late one night (mine was the only light on in the shopping area) covered in blood.

    He’d been mugged in the park opposite the shops (also opposite the police base) – a regular occurence at the time. I checked the injuries were superficial and sent him a couple of doors down to the police, where he reported the crime.

    A day or so later a reporter rag the cops for the usual boring rundown of crime statistics every local rag runs to fill space.

    Lo and behold, no mugging. So I rang the cops – “What about the mugging?”. “There was no mugging”.

    I thus wrote an editorial making the point that while hiding crime stats might make the clean-up rate look good, it didn’t do much for the safety of citizens.

    The result was that three – count ’em, three – cops turned up and suggested to my publisher that he might prefer a less independent editor. I wrote an editorial about the visit…

    And thus began a series of events which one day I may bore people with as part of a book.

    The cops lie about statistics as they lie about a lot of other things – including “evidence”.

    If they want greater powers – and they always want greater powers – they’ll concoct some figures that suggest violent crime is on the rise, and let the “hang ’em high” commentariat scream for tasers or, better yet, armed police.

    IMHO you and DPF are at one another’s throats over a set of figures that might as well have been obtained by consulting a magic eight ball.

  2. Felix 2

    Rex

    Good point about the police – I’ve experienced some similar treatment by them and find it difficult to take anything they say seriously.

    I have a magic 8 ball though and it is consistently accurate.

  3. Rex. I’m just not paranoid enough to assume the Police are lying about their stats. And if I thought they were lying, I don’t think they would lie by saying ‘family violence is up but it’s just due to increased reporting’, they would just report fewer crimes.

    But, look, that doesn’t fit National’s desired narrative ‘crime is up, NZ sucks, National will save me with tax cuts’. If you want to buy into that narrative, I can’t stop you.

  4. vidiot 4

    They don’t up the road toll every year, so why should you allow for population growth ?

    Hell if there was more than one 9/11 style terrorist event per annum, the public surely wouldn’t swallow the ‘oh adjusted for population growth, we are doing better than we have before’

  5. Julie 5

    There was also a very interesting interview with an academic about crime rates at about 8.05am, on Morning Report. She basically supported the stance that you have taken here, and pointed out that adjusted for population the homicide rate has been pretty static for the last thirty years. What has changed though has been the media reporting, particularly on TV. Anyway sorry I don’t have time to find the pod cast, but I hope you can ferret it out.

  6. Janet 6

    Radio New Zealand just played a fascinating interview with criminologist Dr Gabrielle Maxwell who has spend years studying crime stats (and how to deal with it). She says crime has been trending down for the last decade or so, and the police have been getting better at solving it, but the perception of an increase is real and has been fed by the media (I’ve heard that from people in the industry too – it is policy that a violent crime story, if there is one, always leads the TV news). I’m not sure how to link to this interview from the Radio NZ website but worth listening to.

  7. vto 7

    I agree re tv news and its obsession with violent crime. Can’t stand it and just last night had to turn it off because it was way too violent to watch with my children. I consider that state of affairs to be quite appalling. Dunno what to do about it though – but there is a brick wall at the back of our house for donging my head against.

  8. vidiot. They do adjust road toll stats for population growth in the real stats. I’m sorry if you’re relaying on the media.

    Look, you have to adjust for population growth. Say we had two countries: one has a population of 2 million and 60 homicides a year, the other has a population of 4 million and 100 homicides a year. Would it be sensible to conclude the second country is a more murderous country? No. The odds for an individual of being murdered are higher in the first country.

    Now, those numbers for the first and second countries are approximately the numbers for population and homicide for New Zealand in 1950 and in 2000. Just as we need to adjsut for the different sizes of the populations to make a sensible comparison between two diferent countries, we need to do the same for a country over time.

  9. cheers, Janet, Julie, I’ll put that up when it comes online.

  10. Janet 10

    Steve – please can you tell me how to add a link myself when I come across an interesting one?

    One of the interesting points Dr Maxwell made was that about 1 in 4 young males come in contact with the police as part of usual silly growing up stuff. The problem is how then to prevent further offending and stopping those kids turning into more serious offenders.

  11. Billy 11

    Did anyone hear Annette King on moaning report? She started off by claiming that the rise in violent crime was all down to increased reporting of family violence and, as an example, used homicides. As if in past years there was a high incidence of failing to report homicides. It was beyond hilarious.

    [that’s not what she said Billy. She was saying a higher portion of homicides are taking place in the home. As the number of homicides in steady and the rate per capita is dropping, that says homicides outside the home are falling. SP]

  12. Mike Collins 12

    Steve,

    If this is your attempt at an apology it is less than feeble. But I guess you’re not attempting that. IMO you have made an argument – no I don’t agree with it – but it is reasonable nonetheless.

    However in an attempt to discredit an opposing viewpoint you have insinuated that your opponent is pro-rape simply because he knows a pornographer. That is low. That requires an apology.

    It is quite simple to do really. Create a new post that says: DPF, sorry for insinuating you are pro-rape.

    [it’s not an apology and I didn’t say DPF is pro-rape, I said he is a mysogynist who tries to make political capital form the victims of rape. SP]

  13. Worker 13

    “Look, you have to adjust for population growth. Say we had two countries: one has a population of 2 million and 40 homicides a year, the other has a population of 4 million and 100 homicides a year. Would it be sensible to conclude the second country is a more murderous country? No. The odds for an individual of being murdered are hihger in the first country.”

    Steve you might want to check your maths. 40/2000000 < 100/4000000. i.e. In your example the first countries has lest homicides per capita.

  14. worker. chur. I actually changed the numbers and mucked up. will change back. The point stands though

  15. Mike Collins 15

    “it’s not an apology and I didn’t say DPF is pro-rape, I said he is a mysogynist who tries to make political capital form the victims of rape. SP”

    I never said you did say that. Read my words carefully. I said you insinuated he was. I think it warrants an apology. There are plenty of people like me who would respect you for apologising.

  16. Greg 16

    Now Farrar’s dishonest too? Are you aware a lot more people would take your arguments a lot more seriously if you stopped resorting to personal attacks. Seems to be a symptom of the left these days. (Actually thats unfair, more just Labour)

    [it is not a personal attack to say ‘this person is not telling the truth, here is the truth’. Farrar is being dishonest, he doesn’t even adjust for population growth. He doesn’t fail to do that by accident, he doesn’t do it for a legitimate statistical reason, he does it because it suits his political purpose to give a false impression. That’s dishonest. I’m sick of talking about him ,frankly. SP]

  17. randal 17

    rex woderstrom.I noticed that you went straight from the general to the particular and by citing your one heartfelt woebegone tragic experience asserted that because b then c. The Police are perfectly entitled to produce their own statistics and just as perfectly to have them challenged. also using a logical fallacy to discredit the whole of the police by referring to one example is dishonest.

  18. QoT 18

    [it’s not an apology and I didn’t say DPF is pro-rape, I said he is a mysogynist who tries to make political capital form the victims of rape. SP]

    Sure you did, Steve. After you got called by multiple commenters on your actual statement, which was “[Farrar is] hardly one to fret about rape when he’s good mates with a pornographer”.

    One of these things is not like the other …

  19. “Janet

    One of the interesting points Dr Maxwell made was that about 1 in 4 young males come in contact with the police as part of usual silly growing up stuff. The problem is how then to prevent further offending and stopping those kids turning into more serious offenders”

    I’ve read a bit of the stuff she was written, I think its quite good (though this post isn’t entirely coming from what she’s written). For those kind of situations that you mention there essentially she says that and intervention from a youth aid officer, essentially a stern talking too is highly effective. As you have said a lot of youth crime is good kids doing silly things, and as Maxwell points out, a one time intervention from a youth aid officer is generally enough to straighten them out. (Annecdotal eveidence amoungst my late teen young 20’s friends would support this)

    For more serious crimes, those with individual victims for example, a family group conference is the best way to go. The offenders take responsibility for their actions and usually end up going a lot further towards undoing the damage caused by their offending. Victims also report a much higher rate of satisfaction in family group conferences compared to court hearings.

    The main problems she identifies is there aren’t enough police working as youth aid officers, though the ones who do are exceptionally good, and amongst the general police there is an attitude that it is not real police work. Youth aid interventions and family group conferences do not contribute too individual officers performance reviews (quota’s?) which doesn’t help the situation.

    There is also talk of a toxic political culture where people like Ron Mark are able to get traction on bills to lower the age of criminal responsibility, and groups like the sensible sentencing trust being taken seriously despite there being next to no science supporting their point of view of crime (though it still makes good bumper stickers!).

    Also worth noting that New Zealand is a world leader on youth crime and it is dropping at a much higher rate than crime in the general population.

  20. “[Farrar is] hardly one to fret about rape when he’s good mates with a pornographer’

    “DPF is pro-rape”

    One of THESE things is not like the other.

  21. Mike Collins 21

    “”[Farrar is] hardly one to fret about rape when he’s good mates with a pornographer’

    “DPF is pro-rape’

    One of THESE things is not like the other.”

    Well you’re semi right. If you interpret what is being said it is easy to read “[Farrar is] hardly one to fret about rape when he’s good mates with a pornographer’ as, “Farrar doesn’t care about rape victims” which can be construed as “Farrar is pro-rape” by virtue of not being opposed to it.

    You see that is precisely why an apology is required. There was an implicit suggestion being made. It is quite ironic that this post is about asking for truthfulness and castigating misrepresentation, when SP would know exactly what his statement could mean. If it were made in error – which is easy to do when writing heatedly – then he should apologise. If not made in error then I am sorry for him.

  22. Or you could take it to mean exactly what it says.

  23. Matthew Pilott 23

    You see that is precisely why an apology is required. There was an implicit suggestion being made.

    So SP should apologise because (as you admit above) you’ve decided upon a particular interpretation that suits you – not to mention one that takes quite a big logical leap and clearly isn’t what was intended, unless you’ve a large barrow to push…

  24. Tane 24

    Oh Mike, get over yourself. You’re not the moral arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable on the internet. If you were you’d be over at DPF’s and Whale’s whining on a daily basis. But you’re not.

  25. If you were you’d be over at DPF’s and Whale’s whining on a daily basis. But you’re not.

    Well he meets the second part of that criteria…

  26. Rex Widerstrom 26

    But, look, that doesn’t fit National’s desired narrative ‘crime is up, NZ sucks, National will save me with tax cuts’. If you want to buy into that narrative, I can’t stop you.

    Where did I say I swallowed that line, Steve? Kindly don’t put words into my mouth… fingers…

    If National are saying tax cuts will fix crime (and I’m not sure that is precisely what they’re saying, they’re idiots. Do I think they have a solution? No. But then nor does any party at this time of year because they’re all shamelessly whoring themselves for the “get tough on crims / beneficiaries” votes.

    I’m just not paranoid enough to assume the Police are lying about their stats… they would just report fewer crimes.

    No, they’dproduce stats that could easily be read as saying “violent crimes are up” and thus win public support for nice shiny new tasers and, eventually, a gun on every Plod’s hip.

    Stop thinking of them as impartial upholders of the law and start seeing them as a very partisan pressure group and things become clearer. They’re doing what every interest group does pre-election – selectively quoting / manipulting stats to convince gullible readers to pressure pollies to get them to pledge what they (the pressure group) want to see as policy.

  27. randal 27

    mike: if david farrar is going to drop dead if he doesn’t get an apology then verry sorry dave…hehehehehehehehehehe

  28. Stack 28

    Rex Widerstrom: Randal was right to call you on your general/particular reasoning, and your comment at 3:32pm makes no more sense – simply unfounded assumptions. Manipulating statistics is like embezzling the company – sooner or later you are going to be found out. It makes no sense to suggest that the police would risk it – and of course the latest stats confirming drops in crime and improvements in clearance don’t exactly look like a bid for more resources.

    I’d back Gabrielle Maxwell every time as a criminological researcher – past director of the Crime and Justice Research Centre, with an international reputation. Her article “out on the Streets” in the Listener, 27 Sep, covers the subject of this post very well, and includes some useful graphs.

  29. QoT 29

    Killinginthenameof – I’m not sure what you’re getting at. I am taking Steve’s comment as meaning exactly what it says: Steve thinks people who are friends with pornographers inherently cannot “fret about rape”.

    That’s, um, a problem. Especially when his response to being called on that is to say, “What I meant was, I was clearly referencing xyz, Farrar’s a dick, ooh look here’s some statistics from the police, as though that were what people were complaining about”.

  30. Rex Widerstrom 30

    Stack

    Manipulating statistics is like embezzling the company – sooner or later you are going to be found out.

    No, it’s nothing like that, but I’m happy to debate it with you since you seem able to remain above the level to which randal descends. There’s nothing heartfelt, woebegone or tragic in my experience with police manipulation of statistics. I find I can quite easily discuss them without my bottom lip trembling – or my top lip contorting into a petulant sneer.

    If you walk into a police station and report a crime and someone writes it all down then, in most cases, you’ll have no idea what happens to that information. They may delete it then and there, or months later when they can’t pin it on someone, or retain it but just not include it in the statistics they issue.

    Say you report an assault. How can you possibly know whether your assualt is one of those that’s shown in the statistics, and thus check their accuracy? You’d need to know everyone else who reported an assault in the same Police district, or you’d need to establish an independent, reliable, alternative statistics collector – neither of which is remotely possible. Conversely, how would you know whether they added a few hundred cases here and there?

    You have know way of knowing if they don’t, just as I have know way of nowing for certain if they do.

    A company, however, is answerable to external checks and balances – auditors, shareholders, the IRD and so on. The Police are not. They can publish anything they like and you or I have no way of verifying their accuracy.

    Yes, I used a specific example to illustrate a general argument. Then Felix said he’d had a similar experience. Ask around, you’ll find other people whose reported crimes have “disappeared” and not been followed up.

    Sadly, anecdotal evidence is all we’re ever likely to have. I’d suggest to you that such anecdotes are the tip of the iceberg – especially when the instance I cited was just one of several (as I made clear in my comment) but I didn’t want to create a lengthy comment listing them all.

    Whether you want to extrapolate from that some doubt about the accuracy of statements made by the Police is entirely up to you, and I never suggested otherwise.

  31. Rex Widerstrom 31

    Of course that should be:

    You have no way of knowing if they don’t, just as I have no way of nowing for certain if they do.

    Must be this toothache medicine…

  32. Stack 32

    Rex – Sorry, I’ve come across your reply hours later!

    I never suggested that your bottom lip was trembling, but your top lip? You obviously have a very jaundiced view of the probity of our police force, and statements like, “They’re . . . selectively quoting/manipulating stats to convince gullible readers to pressure pollies . . .” sound very like a sneer to me. You earlier charged specifically that “the police lie about statistics.” Now you get terribly mixed up, and appear to be backing of to the extent of saying that you have no way of (k)nowing for certain if they do.

    Here’s my anectodal evidence: 20 years of working closely with the police in good old South Auckland, in front-line work, court work, work with young people. I have seen a few incidents which caused me concern about police behaviour – one of which prompted me to make a written complaint (which was promptly acted on).

    But 95% of the time I was perfectly satisfied with them as colleagues, and I was close enough to esteem many of them – particularly senior officers (the ones who are likely to supervise collection of stats) as particularly fine individuals, thoroughly deserving their positions.

    You do look upon these things with a different lens. I look forward to the book.

  33. Rex Widerstrom 33

    Stack – wasn’t referring to you at all re either lip 🙂 It was randal who characterised my earlier comment as “citing your one heartfelt woebegone tragic experience”. I was simply making a point – a contentious one, I admit, but I don’t see statistical manipulation as a “tragedy”, particularly a personal one. It just struck me as a particularly bizarre comment… but then again it is randal.

    Yes, I do accuse the police of lying about statistics (and other things), based on repeated personal observation and the observation of others. But it’s damned hard, if not impossible, to prove it on statistics. On other matters, I could give you at least six personal examples of outright lying, the use of threats to suborn perjury and malicious prosecution – but then no one would buy the book! 😉

    Perhaps I’ve just had an extraordinary run of bad luck with unpleasant police officers, and you’ve had a good one – but I doubt it. I believe the difference is that the police are human beings, and like all humans react differently to people they don’t like. And since they’re a close-knit bunch, upset one or two and you end up on the s**tlist of them all.

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