It’s not all about statistics

This week, the Research Inspector looks at research into rural crime and concerns, and profiles a major academic partnership with policing.

Nov 8, 2017

Derbyshire covers a large rural area, especially in the High Peak and Derbyshire Dales. The police and crime commissioner, Hardyal Dhindsa, asked for research to help inform policing that area, particularly given specific needs such as the control of wildlife crime, crime problems specific to a dispersed community, and high-value theft risks relating to agricultural machinery. Somehow the policing of the particular crime profile characteristic of rural areas is missing – there are few integrated strategies for the control of rural crime. There is no recent collective bespoke crime prevention strategy for rural areas, for example, the Home Office’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy is essentially urban in focus and the words rural, countryside, wildlife do not feature at all. Rural crime is a topic that is what is known as ‘under–researched’, perhaps because there has been more attention given to crime in the big cities. The University of Derby, supported by the Police Knowledge Fund, set out to explore what the data revealed to inform policing. The last significant inquiry into rural crime was Maureen Cain’s 1973 study of rural policing, which undertook a systematic approach, but Rob Mawby and Richard Yarwood (2011) point to a lack of research since then. You can well imagine things may have changed a bit since 1973. Indeed, Dr Daniela Fecht (2017) suggests that rural crime should increasingly be looked at within changing social trends and perceptions, such as rural infrastructure. The Derby research also found a lack of data as well as previous literature. This opens up a very interesting discussion about policing priorities based on risk, threat and harm, and a term coined by Jock Young and Stan Cohen about ‘amplification of deviance’, which in short means ‘the more you look the more you find’. The research had to wrestle with the notion of what priority is given to a ‘quieter area’ and does that mean it is less important for policing resources? People who live in quieter areas certainly have very strong views on this subject. To manage such issues in research there needs to be a broad approach taken, which includes the sociology and social psychology of the context – in other words, what these issues mean in real life to real people, beyond what current recorded statistics might state. Social science research approaches can add a lot of value to the surveying of people’s views and this is a classic example of how. Head of policing at the University of Derby, Tony Blockley, said: “This research is an example of where we need to use a greater sophistication to understand social nuances and contexts. This can mean working beyond statistical accounts and get insights which could be otherwise be quite hidden.” In basic terms, the low data evidence base did not stop the researchers, or the police, looking more closely and getting to grips with the reality on the ground to make a difference. The key difference in the informed policing change was communication – police leaders being visible on the ground and actively listening to people’s concerns. This was about recognising and engaging with local community issues, even though they were perhaps quite different to those an urban community might experience – different but no less important. And this of course required professional belief in doing the right thing beyond the logical direction of just the statistical data. It is a bit like the Jock Young point mentioned earlier – the more you listen the more you understand. In any under-researched area – and cybercrime, despite its prominence, is still one – ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ until you’ve gone out to look, proactively. The dilemma is if there is a small evidence base, does it mean something does not exist? Sometimes statistics can lag behind the reality because it can take time to collect, analyse and be aware that not everything is always reported to create a statistic in the first place. In policing there is evidence that until trust and communication is built cri

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