The “science of crime”

Crackdown on Golden Mile (Blair Ensor and Jody O’Callaghan, 23/08/2012)

A third of Wellington’s crime takes place along the “Golden Mile” [between Parliament and Courtenay Place] … Last year 5753 reported offences were in the Golden Mile hot spot, out of 16,627 across the city.

Police revealed the figures yesterday as they announced a multi-agency crime-fighting strategy … [of] police taking control of Wellington City Council’s network of CCTV cameras, more officers on the beat, a focus on the “science of crime”, and working with other city agencies.

The initiative is part of the police’s new Prevention First model, which aims to reduce crime by 13 per cent by 2015.

Like their Christchurch counterparts a week ago, the Wellington police and media have been talking about something of which they’re profoundly ignorant – criminology.

The police officers who walk up the hill from the Golden Mile to the university to study their optional police criminology courses should* be learning on the first day that “reported crime” and police crime statistics are a wildly unreliable measure of real criminal activity. When the vast majority of crime is never reported, investigated or prosecuted, police crime figures will inevitably say far more about where police target than about where crime happens.

(* I say “should”. Actually, I know a guy who used to tutor the police students, and a disappointingly high proportion would argue in their essays that police statistics are in fact a reliable measure of crime, even though all research says the opposite.)

If they kept paying attention after that, they might learn that the most likely type of crime to never be apprehended is white collar crime, the crime of the rich and powerful, which by many accounts is a far, far bigger problem than blue collar crime. However, only a tiny fraction of law enforcement and penal attention is paid to it.

They might go on to learn that the most important factor determining whether we’ll have safer communities or anti-social behaviour isn’t what the police do or don’t do… far more important are wider socio-economic factors happening at the top of the cliff, regardless of what happens at the bottom. If they want to focus on “Prevention First”, they might realise that the best way for a society to reduce crime by 13% is to reduce economic inequality by the same amount.

All of which leads me to believe that if police really were taking the “science of crime” seriously, when they came back down the hill from the university, a lot more of them would stop at The Terrace and Parliament than at Courtenay Place.

[Edit: My friend who tutored the police students told me of a sad development that renders the premise of this blog obsolete, but its point unfortunately all the more relevant: “The VPEP contract was not renewed at the beginning of the year, so the police no longer get the opportunity to learn this stuff”]

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2 comments

  1. Deni

    “A third of Wellington’s crime takes place along the “Golden Mile” [between Parliament and Courtenay Place] … Last year 5753 reported offences were in the Golden Mile hot spot, out of 16,627 across the city” – my thoughts here relate not to the 5753 offences that were in the golden mile hot spot — but the 11000 or so that weren’t. What is not explored is the ‘type’ of crime that occurs in the Golden mile in comparison to the ‘type of crime’ committed in the other 11000. In NZ the majority of crimes taken to court are violent crimes and I believe also the majority of unreported crime would also fall into that category. Of The 11,000 reported crimes across the city — one could then think that a significant proportion of these would be violent crimes – many I suspect would fall into the category of ‘domestic violence — in suburban homes. This thought then creates a whole new range of crime prevention strategies that are convenienlty made superfluous by focussing primarlity on CCTV & ‘more officers on the beat’ in this inner city district that contains few family homes – and a new dimension to the discussion that is too long and complex for a response to this blog — but could be the subect of future blogs perhaps. (Especially when our present government has a self confessed ‘war’ on beneficiares in particlaur solo parents – further closing the ‘options’ door of for many victims of unreported violent crime – or who are most likely victims in the 11.000 crimes that are not considered by this particular strategy against crime.) Interestingly family violence encompasses both blue and white collar populations. Our governments campaign to empoverish beneficaries whilst increasing stigma for solo parents is hardly a ‘prevention first’ initiative.

  2. calebmorgan

    Indeed. I don’t have any specific statistics on hand about it, but I would imagine the 5,753 in the ‘Golden Mile’ would be quite a high proportion of actual offenses compared to 11,000 everywhere else, which would be only a small proportion of actual crime. Wellington City Council have often expressed a desire to ‘clean up the streets’ but local/national authorities often don’t seem so concerned about sufferings that happen out of the way or to less ‘significant’ people … the current government’s dismissive/avoiding response to the child poverty report being another case in point.

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