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Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Art of Communication

Something else I have been thinking about over the Christmas break is communication.

Ollie criticised my pseudo-3D graphs showing the differences in time profiles of people of different ages who were victims of street robberies. He kindly pointed me in the direction of ""Tufte's seminal work "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"". Unfortunately I have not been able to find an e-book version of this work on the Internet so I have yet to read it but I have found plenty of references to it and even extracts from it. It looks like it is a book I should have put on my Christmas present list!

My interest is how to accurately and simply communicate information about crime, disorder and police activity to tackle it, to the public. The purpose of doing this is to make people safer and to increase confidence in the police. The latter should encourage co-operation with the police and compliance with the law.

The more I have studied the subject of the public's perception of crime and the police the more I am convinced that the key to improving both is for the police to communicate to the public at a local level what the problems are and most importantly what they are doing about.

Just before Christmas I was asked by a senior detective whether he should inform local residents by leaflets about drugs raids police had carried out in their neighbourhood. He was concerned that not all the raids would be a success and he would reduce the confidence in the police when this happened. My reply was along the lines of "Do the people in your borough think there is a drugs problem? does it reduce their safety and increase crime? are they worried about how it may affect their children? do they think police should be doing something about it?" Assuming the answer is "Yes" then the public should be pleased by the police activity as long as the leaflet carefully explains police procedures to ensure the right places are targeted and the reasons why success it not always achievable. Along with an expression of determination to tackle the problem and an anonymous phone number they could ring if they had useful information.

With the overarching Performance Indicator (PI) for police in England and Wales being "Increasing confidence in the police" it is important that the police are not only working on those things that matter to the public but they are perceived to be doing so. The art of communication is the means.

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