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Make better use of the damned stats

It is the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who once spoke of lies, damned lies and statistics.

And while we are loath to level the accusation against any member of the Royal Barbados Police Force as being the bearer of untruths, we nevertheless question the force’s crime statistics and the practical interpretation and usage of the same.

We applaud the efforts of our police officers in ensuring that Barbados is one of the safest, if not the safest destination, in the region and possibly the Western Hemisphere. We are also cognizant that over the years several of the brightest and most courageous of Barbadian citizenry have been recruited into the constabulary. Despite last year’s exposure of problems at the very top of the organization, which are currently addressing the attention of the law courts, the Royal Barbados Police Force is fortunate to have someone of the high calibre of Tyrone Griffith at its helm.

But there needs to be some discourse on the crime situation in Barbados, especially where the compilation and interpretation of statistics may be made more relevant and moved beyond the annual reporting of increases and decreases. In this way, even greater resources and strategies than undoubtedly already exist may be implemented.

Our information is that for statistical purposes all crime is generally classified as crime. There are categories of crime which are documented by the force’s statisticians so as to arrive at specific numbers within each category. But at the end of the day crime is documented overall as crime. Therefore, if a situation arises in 2016 where there are four murders, four rapes, five burglaries and 150 cases of simple wounding, that year will reflect the commission of 163 crimes. In 2017 if there are 15 murders, 20 rapes, 12 burglaries and 21 cases of simple wounding, that represents a “significant drop” in crime of 95 cases. But we suggest that 2016 would be an eminently better year than 2017.

The media are often blamed for highlighting violent crime and encouraging perceptions of rampant criminality. But the media report, not create, and give criminality the vent that it merits. Such exposure is a constant guard against social complacency and hopefully prevents our authorities from burying their heads in the sand.

We arrive at a dangerous juncture when serious criminality ceases to shock or offends when highlighted. In any event, the statistics related to common assaults, wandering, loitering, or even showing an “indecent picture” of two minors and others of similar ilk, pertinent though they might be, do not merit the sleepless nights or hair loss that serious crime ought to. It would therefore behove our law enforcers not to dwell so much on the ebb and flow of overall crime, but to concentrate their energies [and statistical analyses] on addressing serious crimes.

It is an indisputable fact that not all criminal reports are documented as crimes committed. It does not happen in Barbados, nor does it happen in any force on the planet. Some minor infractions which are nonetheless crimes, or criminal reports where complainants request warnings for perpetrators or action that does not involve the law courts, are not documented for statistical reference. Thus the woman who beats and wounds her husband or lover who in turn requests she be warned is a crime reported, but not documented as such.

So while many of us still believe we live in a Barbadian paradise, we ought to take note of too high the occurrence of gun-related crimes; too high the number of women losing their lives in domestic circumstances; the attraction which Barbados now holds for criminals from Plovdiv and Razgard and other European cities, not to mention those closer to home in South America.

Some years ago a young man was apprehended after his ninth or tenth attack on visitors on the same beach in the south of the island. Many years ago a young Vincentian was apprehended having committed more than a dozen rapes across St Michael. Often we see young men appearing before the courts charged and later convicted for sometimes 20 to 25 cases of burglary and robbery.  What we, John Public, and we suspect the average hardworking police officer would like to see, is a compilation and analysis of statistics that lead to a situation where interventions into serious criminality are made before a criminal notches up 30 serious offences.

After all, this is a jurisdiction that can be traversed from one end to the other in fewer than 90 minutes; an island with no uninhabited space; and a few square miles with proxmity of co-existence that can often lead to sexual dalliances being overheard by one’s neighbour.

Aaron Levenstein, late associate professor emeritus at Baruch College, once said that statistics are like bikinis –– what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. Food for thought for our law enforcers.

One Response to Make better use of the damned stats

  1. Tony Webster April 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Touché, again, Madam Editor. For some strange reason, makes me recall my monumental efforts to differentiate between an
    “average” number, and a “mean” one. My Mathematics master was definitely mean…so with super-human endeavor, I joined those students of average ability, who learned to respect “numbers”. Accomplished in Grenada, all the while also concentrating on lovely things clothed in statistics…on Grand Anse beach.


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