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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Statistics vs Crime

Over at the magazine Nature is an article on the use of analytic techniques to help reduce crime.  The laboratory is Springfield, Massachusetts, described in the article as "one of the most dangerous cities in the United States".

The article talks about the application of approaches from the US military's Counter-Insurgency (COIN) doctrine to the problems of crime in Springfield.  This terminology, this talking of relating COIN doctrine to civilian policing, causes concerns for Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Lieutenant John Sullivan, who believes it "convolutes the discussions".  If Lieutenant John Sullivan, a recognized expert in this area, shows caution, I think caution is in order.  Given our form of Government, we should avoid the "militarization" of the conversation, while still being open to all lessons we can apply within our own understanding of democracy and the relationship of the People and their government.

On the other hand, the view of George Mason University anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, "that the idea of applying a counter-insurgency approach in domestic law enforcement, however it is labelled, risks casting local communities as hostile populations" ignores the idea that in COIN the local community is not a hostile population, but a population in need of help due to crime perpetrated by a group hostile to the People and their government.

The article is short and interesting.  It makes the point that statistics can be very helpful in understanding what is going on in a community and that hidden in reams of data is knowledge that can be used to make things better.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Sometimes one wonders if the anthropology community, which, in the United States has appeared hostile to the military's use of social science insights to dealing with civilian populations, would rather adopt the line that the military should just kill their way to victory.  They wouldn't say that directly, but that is what their approach amounts to.  That is a short-sighted view.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The problem is that statistical analysis largely defines WHAT is going on.....but is woefully inadequate to defining WHY. A well recognized operational analyst posited at a conference I attended some years ago that "analysts should confine themselves to providing objective analysis, not to drawing conclusions." I think that is advice well taken.

The flaw in COIN is that the bad guys are quite often if not always a subset of the indigenous population, and thus, not an entirely severable faction as their differences with the other factions in the population are quite often philosophical...deeply perhaps....but not enough to completely estrange themselves from family and friends in the community. Its like a cop walking into a domestic dispute and being attacked for taking action against one of the participants. With COIN, the military's action is almost minor when it comes to "curing" the why of the insurgency.

Moreover, I would suggest that the problems afflicting Springfield, MA are on a less than general level of view, decidedly different in their genesis than those of Los Angeles.