Saturday, June 4, 2011

The power of few - Part 2

In Charles Dickens's classic work, three ghosts haunt Scrooge. My last blog described evidence-based criminology - particularly the power of few - as a path for policing in the future. It too has three ghosts.

The power of few emerges from evidence-based criminology and has morphed into the new vogue - SMART policing. Comstat (computer crime statistics) and intelligence-led policing are part of it. SMART policing is Strategically-Managed, Analysis and Research-driven, Technology-based. The goal of the SMART Policing Initiative (SPI) is to develop effective, efficient and economical tactics.

Three ghosts come to mind.

Ghost #1: What data?

Evidence-based approaches rely on data to prove or disprove hypotheses in an objective empirical way. Data are the thing.

Mike Scott said as much at the inaugural SPI conference; standards of proof for evidence of success are difficult to define. What happens when the data is far from objective?

I've done blogs on research-driven and technology-based approaches like the paralysis of analysis, predicting crime with superlinear scaling, and problems with comstat data.

Ghost #2: Tech-envy

The SPI website offers a proof of technology-driven success in the story of security cameras in London.

London's Ring of Steel is a system of 500,000 CCTV cameras resulting in, supposedly, an improved clearance rate for murder. The evidence? London's murder clearance rate in 2005 increased to 95% from 75% in 1999.

Unfortunately London's 2008 teenage violence increased to a record 29 teenage murders (an epidemic for London), a year in which six days of youth violence ended in 6 teen knife attacks (two fatal).

Also unfortunate is that London's robbery rate ebbed and flowed the past decade. Then there was the explosion of robberies from 26,330 in 1998 to 53,547 in 2002.

So much for the Ring of Steel.

Ghost #3: Buy-in

It is rarely, if ever, advisable to proceed without public education and outreach, especially when targeting offenders or neighborhoods. SMART policing doesn't do that, but too many evidence-based methods do.

Some SPI advocates acknowledge this. "Smart Policing will benefit an entire community, not only through cost-savings and improvements to criminogenic problems, but also through the promotion of a sense of community and collaboration."

If done well, I think this is where SPI might flourish. Not just by promoting a sense of community. Rather, like SafeGrowth, by re-creating it and growing it from the ground up. McKnight and Kretzman describe this in Building Communities From The Inside Out.

Community capacity-building isn't an add-on after number-crunching is complete. It's not a tactic for strategic managers to craft their evidence-based plans. It is the very DNA of safe communities.

To ignore that DNA is to risk being haunted by ghosts of our past.