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Friday, 21 January 2011

Crime, soil, perception, labelling and mapping


I have been a little bit silent on my research for a few weeks for various reasons but I think it is the right time to try to explain what I am up to.................

There is a phrase up North that is "Call a spade a spade" or another one "Its what it says on the tin". The meaning of course is that the label given to something is 100% accurate and its all you need to know. The point I wish to make is that this is not the case with police recorded crime, which in the UK is the source data for crime maps. As I have discussed previously, for instance, the label `violent crime' is totally misleading. This I argue is at the heart of the public's mistrust in crime statistics.  The requirements of police recorded crime to meet legal definitions, Home Office counting rules and groupings into Home Office types result in  the label on the outside of the tin not representing what the public assumes to be on the inside of tin. It is not surprising therefore that the public's perception of various types of crime is different to what the police recorded crime statistics show. Then the there is the additional problem of unreported crime.

The question I have set myself is;
Is it possible to produce valid crime data that more closely matches people's perception of crime for mapping purposes?
This is a sentence I have used when trying to explain the the importance of this ambition;
We agree with others (see Jackson and Bradford 2010) that trust is aligned with effective community engagement based on a shared understanding of problems to be addressed, which in turn leads to increased confidence in the police and the criminal justice system.
The problem of producing maps with data that the public do not trust is that it is likely to result in the public thinking that the police do not understand the crime problem. If the public do not think the police understand the crime problem it is logical for them to think that they are not tackling it properly, this inevitably leads to the public losing confidence in the police.

So that is the theory, what data is out there for me to use?

Let me give you an analogy off the top of my head.

When I travel round the countryside I notice ploughed fields, in different areas the soil is different colours varying from a rich dark chocolate through reds, yellows, greys, creams to almost white. That is my personal unsophisticated almost subconscious classification of soils, I am not a farmer, I am a city person, the countryside to me is about aesthetics and ambiance. Now to a farmer soil classifications are to do with what it consists of, its water retention and what he can and cannot grow on it; the soils are graded accordingly. I go into a map shop and decide that I want a map of different types of soil colours in the UK. The shop keeper tells me that there is not such a map but he can sell me one of grades of soils which is just as good because everyone knows the better the soil the darker in colour. I then test this assumption out only to find that it is not always the case. I want a map of what I can see not what requires specialist knowledge to understand. No doubt when grading the soil one of the early scientific observations would have been the colour, so it would be quite easy to produce a map of UK soil colours if the original soil grading data could be accessed.

So the data I am going to use is not the data for specialist that has been accurately sorted and classified - police recorded crime but the aspect of the data that the public observe and label in everyday language. I am going to the early stages of the data collection process.

I will make this clearer in my next post.


Jackson, J. and Bradford, B. (2010). 'What is Trust and Confidence in the Police?', Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 4,3, 241-248

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