Crime and wickedness

I’m disappointed by this new report on Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime as reported here by the beeb.

The report notes that although there’s pretty good evidence that crime is falling the public fear that it is rising. Among the ideas floated to deal with this problem are devices to make punishment more visible such as putting those on community service orders into orange jumpsuits or sending round leaflets advertising their convictions.

There seems to be no real sense of the complexity of this issue. The report reads like so many documents I see flying round organisations, with chunks of data interspersed with questionable argument and the odd provocative anecdote.

Have they thought for a moment about this puzzling, apparently inverse, relationship between crime and the fear of crime? Have they considered the fact that more obvious punishment may well only make the perception that there’s a lot of crime increase?

I fear we’re also seeing pandering here to the questionable notion that shame is going to be an effective way to deter crime. Have the authors of this report thought about how ASBO’s have become badges of achievement for some groups?

The document seems full of confident sounding proposals but very little curiosity or respect for uncertainty. What a pity they can’t propose some small scale experiments to see what impact some of their ideas have.

This strikes me as a classic case of what Jeff Conklin calls “solving” a wicked problem.

You simply construct a problem definition that obscures the wicked nature of the problem and then apply linear methods to solving it.

But if the government want a confident sounding proposal (and I fear this is really all they’re after) then I propose locking the author of this report in a room with Dave Snowden for a day. She might learn something. Jumpsuit optional.

3 thoughts on “Crime and wickedness

  1. Charles Frith

    Hello Johnnie. I was listening to the world service about a NY mother who let her 9 (then 8) year old son on to the subway alone after he requested permission. Her very rational and sensible interview after the outrage and condemnation as ‘American’s worst mother’ was that the world is not as dangerous as it is portrayed in the media and the quicker we get to the understanding that we are all increasingly interdependent on each other the healthier society will be.

    Inflated crime?

    I’m sick of it!

  2. Rob Paterson

    Don’t we live in an age of fear? Fear of what is not a problem – like everytime your child goes out she will be abducted – but head in the sand about things we should fear like Peak Oil or failing schools

  3. Suw

    I haven’t read the report, but I have read some of the press reports of it, and I agree with you that there’s a gross oversimplification of the issues going on. There’s a lot work to be done, but which isn’t being even attempted, in re-engaging large sections of our society who feel alienated and hopeless, of improving education, increasing social mobility, and a whole host of other things.

    This work is complex, needs to be nuanced, and requires proper scientifically run trials to see what works and what doesn’t. The New Scientist had a good article recently about the lack of trials in public policy, and how even policies that have been shown to have negative effects are not stopped because it is not politically expedient to do so for the people who backed them. This has to stop. We need policies based on reality, not someone’s wishful thinking and shallow guesswork.

    One other thing really stands out. People’s perception of crime is at odds with the reality of the situation. Where does that perception come from? It wouldn’t happen to be an hysterical media that relies on outrage to sell papers and so over-eggs every pudding it can find, would it? Maybe if we started off with more balanced reporting of crime people wouldn’t be crapping their pants all the time.

    I can’t imagine anything happening about that though. Fear sells. And fear allows the government to pass awful laws in it’s ongoing quest to increase it’s power over the everyday citizen and their life. So neither the media nor the government have any real incentive to balance out crime reporting.


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