Statistics can lead and mislead. If an organization does a proper statistical analysis of events it can help to predict future trends and permit the organization to properly plan to manage these events. However, statistics can also be easily manipulated to misrepresent the facts and mislead the audience. Crime statistics are a good example. Crime statistics can provide good insight into the safety of a location and provide an assistance to the police agency as to where the crime is occurring and where resources should be allocated to help fight and prevent crime, or the numbers can be explained away to indicate that crime is not really as bad as it looks. Statistics can be smoke and mirrors, obfuscations, and untruths, or it can tell the true story. Unfortunately, the latter is not often the case, especially when telling the truth gives the corporate ego a smack-down.
To illustrate this point, I call your attention to a Cincinnati City Council Law and Public Safety Committee meeting held on January 6th, 2014. At this meeting, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell presented a Power Point presentation demonstrating the crime story in the City. When viewing the charts it was quite obvious that homicides in Cincinnati had dramatically increased in 2013. Chief Blackwell attempted to minimize the spike by stating, “If you look at the average number of homicides in Cincinnati over the last ten years, the number is 68 so if you go by that number and throw out the 53 in 2012 which was an anomaly in the other direction the increase was about 9.5%”. I thought perhaps I did not hear what I thought I heard so I played it back several times, and then copied it down verbatim. Yup, that is what he said. I guess this means we should not be concerned because it isn’t really that bad. All you have to do is look at a ten-year average, remove the 2012 number because it is an anomaly, and then the City is only slightly higher than average. See what you can pull out of the statistical box of chocolates!
I am fairly certain that someone, at some point, made mention of the low homicide rate in Cincinnati in 2012. I am sure it was mentioned that the City was safer and the low rate proved it. But now it doesn’t count, it was an anomaly. Earlier in the presentation Lt. Col. David Bailey indicated the homicide rate was down in 2012 because a large investigation has put many of those responsible for the violence behind bars. It was a good thing that homicides were down then, but it is an anomaly now because it hurt the average. I wonder what the average number of homicides would be if 2012 was included in the ten-year average. I don’t have those numbers so I cannot provide that statistic to you. You just can’t have it both ways. Was the 2012 rate low because of a good police investigation, or was it low because it was an anomaly?
I think the public has the right to a fair assessment by the police chief. He needs to stand up and say 2013 was a bad year, we will try to improve going forward or he needs to say police really do not have a lot to do with the rate. The police are mostly after the fact. They come in and clean up the mess, conduct the investigation, and hopefully put someone in jail. I think the statistic that really counts is not the murder rate, but the arrest rate. The more homicides cleared by arrest, the better the police are doing their jobs. Manipulating the statistics is not being transparent, and I think we were promised transparency.
Those are my thoughts, what are yours?