Today’s Editorial for July 17: Of statisticians and police

There’s an oft-quoted saying from Mark Twain, which goes something like: ‘there are three kinds of liars: liars, damn liars and statisticians.’

Statistics are a crucial, but often dangerous, tool for news organisations to use. Without hard facts and figures, reporters generally have to rely on people’s various points of view in representing the truth of a particular matter.

At the same time, relying on raw data can be misleading. Numbers can be presented in a certain manner, or only partially presented to skew the viewer’s perception.

According to Acting Police Commissioner David George, it was a perception problem that led the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to change the way it records crime on quarterly statistical reports.

Essentially, police say crime numbers were becoming skewed by individuals who were accused of committing several offences at once.

For instance, a man who kicks in the door of his ex-girlfriend’s house, assaults her, takes money from her purse and smashes some of her property has committed several offences. In the past, every one of those offences would have been counted as a separate crime on statistical reports.

In the new system, only the most serious crime (in the above case likely the assault) would be counted on the police reports.

While it’s true that, in the above case, only one incident of crime has actually taken place, the police will, with the proper evidence, take several separate charges to the court against that individual in relation to the one ‘incident’ of crime.

So, the new system will report one incident of crime occurring, while the police will take, say, potentially four charges against the individual to court.

This is what we have a problem with.

The commission of a crime is not, or at least should not be, one thing in a court of law and another thing when presented to the public.

RCIPS officials may argue that some crimes are reported to police where it is later determined that no offence has occurred. However, those situations are accounted for as well.

Crime statistics actually change all the time with reports being added or subtracted as more information is obtained.

One positive change police will make in their new reporting scheme is that a crime will still be recorded even if the victim does not wish to pursue a complaint.

We understand public pressure on police these days is immense. The RCIPS organisation is going through an extremely difficult time, and doesn’t want a misperception of the crime situation here.

Misperceptions such as those caused when certain news organisations compare the murder rates of Haiti and Los Angeles to countries that have six homicides for the year.

It is a fact that the Cayman Islands is still among the lowest crime jurisdictions in the world. Tourists are not kept in armed fortress, all-inclusive hotels for their safety, open panhandling and illicit drug sales on street corners are something visitors will rarely, if ever, come across in Cayman.

We don’t need our police to come up with new ways of counting crimes because of such misperceptions.

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