Crime statistics and the police

Some years ago someone in the police force had discovered a way of manipulating crime statistics. The methods used, though simple, were not immediately transparent, and without being directly mendacious were nevertheless utterly misleading. It had all started with demands for a more militant and homogeneous police force, for greater technical resources in general, and for more firearms in particular. To get this it had been necessary to exaggerate the hazards that policemen faced. Since verbiage had not proved politically effective enough, recourse had then been made to another method: namely, the manipulation of statistics.

Does this sound somewhat familiar? Here are the following paragraphs:

At this juncture the political demonstrations during the second half of the sixties had opened up magnificent possibilities. Demonstrators pleading for peace had been suppressed by violence. Hardly ever armed with anything but their banners and their convictions, they had been met by tear gas, water cannons, and rubber nightsticks. Few were the nonviolent demonstrations that had not ended in tumult and chaos. Those individuals who had tried to defend themselves had been mauled about, arrested, and prosecuted for “assaulting the police” or “resisting arrest.” All this information had been fed into the statistics. The method had worked perfectly. Each time a few hundred policemen were sent out to “control” a demonstration, the figures for alleged assaults against the police had rocketed.

The uniformed police had been encouraged “not to pull their punches,” as the expression went, orders with which many a patrolman had been only too delighted, in all possible situations, to comply. Tap a drunk with a nightstick and the chances of his hitting back are always fairly high.

A simple lesson, which anyone could learn.

— From The Locked Room, by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (1972)

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