Magical thinking in the Home Office.

Interesting repot on the BBC of Home Office proposals that “Council staff, charity workers and doctors could be required by law to tip off police about anyone they believe could commit a violent crime.”

Signs that someone was about to commit such a crime would include: “heavy drinking, mental health problems or a violent family background”.

See my recentposting about a Samuel Nunns essay on CTheory on this subject: moving from historical data analysis to prediction. This is a good example of what Nunn meant.

Firstly, its odd how society allows some stereotypes, but not others. If I were to say, for example, that someone who has a Romany background is more likely than most to steal horses, and should therefore not be employed in a racing stables, I would justly be condemned.

But apparently it is all right to say that someone who comes from a violent family background – scarcely his/her fault – should automatically come under suspicion from every official he meets.

In The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer says:
“Men mistook the order of their thoughts for the order of nature, and hence imagined that the control which they have, or seem to have, over their thoughts, permitted them to exercise a corresponding control over things.”

Substitute data for thoughts and you get the same process.

The trouble is that this sort of thing becomes a two-edged sword, as Ive argued elsewhere.

Suppose there are ten men with a violent family background, who drink heavily. One of them commits a violent crime. Council workers, charity staff and doctors have reported him to the Police as a person likely to do this. But the Police did not act on these reports – or at least, they didnt manage to prevent his crime. (And how could they prevent it, realistically? Follow him around all day? trump up a charge and lock him away for no real reason?)

Now the Police are in trouble in the courts for not taking notice of these warnings.

So, the Police have to take suitable notice of all warnings. But there are nine other men out there, all generating warnings everywhere they go, but not committing crimes. The Police have to take equal notice of all these men, since nobody knows which one will succumb to heredity or pink elephants. Demands on police time multiply, as do complaints about infringement of civil liberties.

If I was the Police, Id have nothing to do with it. The problem is simply that the modelling is too crude to move from data to forecast – and Nunns essay suggests it will remain so, for the foreseeable future at least.

Interesting to see another BBC report about the Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire:
“Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner.
He told the BBCs Politics Show that CCTV was being used in small towns and villages where crime rates were low.
Mr Readhead also called for the retention of some DNA evidence and the use of speed cameras to be reviewed.
His force area includes the small town of Stockbridge, where parish councillors have spent £10,000 installing CCTV.
Mr Readhead questioned whether the relatively low crime levels justified the expense and intrusion. ”

According to the BBC, “There are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people. The UK also has the worlds biggest DNA database, with 3.6 million DNA samples on file. ”

Im going to have my tea now; I dont think anybody is watching.

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