Friday, February 05, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Tory Crime Statistics*

Working as I do with data day in and day out the one thing you learn is that you have to compare like with like to get an actual comparison. There are little comments all over our spreadsheets which say when something started, moved or a calculation was changed. It not simply for us to keep a track on changes but also so that we know if data from different periods is comparable simply from the raw figures.

In 2002 what happened with violent crime statistics was that instead of the incident being recorded as violent at the discretion of the desk sergeant police were told to record every complaint.

This is what Chris Grayling the Shadow Home Secretary failed to tell us when he was whipping up a storm with his some British town's as becoming like The Wire.

Sir Michael Scholar, chairman of the UK Statistics Authority sets the wayward Tory right by writing to him saying:

"I do not wish to become involved in political controversy but I must take issue with what you said about violent crime statistics, which seems to me likely to damage public trust in official statistics."

He included a note from his agency which said:

"It would not be appropriate for the Authority to seek to intervene in political debate directly. However, where we see that official statistics have been presented or quoted in a way that seems likely to mislead the public, we will publicly draw this to the attention of those involved."

Here are the actual figures, there is a kink up in 2002-3 and then the downward trend continued under the new recording criteria.

Grayling has said he would take the Statistics Authority memo into account, before then dismissing it totally by saying he would:

"continue to use recorded crime statistics, because they reflect an important reality; that the number of violent crimes reported to police stations, and particularly serious violent crimes, has increased substantially over the past decade, even taking into account any changes to data collection".

* There was just no way to top The Independent's headline.

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