How to spin crime statistics

The Home Office recently released figures on crime levels in the UK. (Excel spreadsheet link)

For the statistically challenged, here’s a guide on how to spin the statistics in your favour.

If reported crime numbers have decreased in your area and lower crime rates are good news for you, put out a press release welcoming the news that crime numbers have dropped.

Obviously, you’re doing a good job.

(Under no circumstances should you mention that it might mean that you’re so hopeless people have given up on reporting crime. Especially if statistics released at the same time from a survey of households in your region show an increase in people who report having been victims.)

Conversely, if reported crime numbers have unfortunately increased, you can find some tenuous link to a recent publicity exercise. Say that as a result of this, more people are reporting crime. Your strategy to get people to report crime more so that you can investigate more effectively is working.

Obviously, you’re doing a good job.

CRB Checks and Trans Folk

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Criminal Records Bureau, there were 298 applications for CRB checks that used the little-known “transgender applications process” last financial year. (April 2010 – March 2011) That sounds like quite a lot, but is it as many as we’d expect?

In the same period, there were just over four million total CRB checks, so the transgender application process accounted for around one in every fifteen thousand applications. We don’t really know how many post-transition trans people there are in the UK, but it’s more than one in fifteen thousand: Estimates vary from one in ten thousand to one in five thousand.

So there’s around half as many CRB applications as we’d expect. Why not? Firstly, some background: If you’re applying for a CRB check for a job, perhaps working in a school, you need to reveal any previous names you’ve had. This isn’t something that Trans folk like doing as even if you’re “out”, your old name is something that you’d rather never saw the light of day.

Via a slightly tortuous process, once you’ve filled in a CRB form you’re supposed to phone them on a special number so they can intercept the request. They can then match up records without outing you to your prospective employer.

True, some people may not use the transgender application process but this seems unlikely: I didn’t bother with it when applying for one as I was “out” to the organisation I was applying via, the Scouts. Someone, somewhere in an office, screwed up badly: The form wasn’t sent by the Scouts to the CRB but was sent to some central office to be copied out via email. Seeing my previous details, they put down the wrong gender, consequently generating incorrect titles on paper mail.

As you can imagine, I was not best pleased when I received the completed check.

I suspect one reason is the fear of being outed, as the process doesn’t work reliably. According to the CRB, they have had three complaints in the last year about their transgender application process: 1%. That’s pretty high, but still seems suspicious as either we have been spectacularly unlucky in our household, or they are only keeping count of actual complaints and not known errors. My partner also applied for a CRB check, this time using their transgender process and also ran foul of the system. They managed to intercept her request when it came into the CRB, but failed to remove her old details before sending the results back both to her and the organisation concarned.

Another dissatisfied CRB user resulted, along with a panicked phone call from the CRB to the organisation that had requested the check asking them to send back any received post unopened.

Even if the system works, if the police find anything under an old name (Doesn’t have to have been the applicant, just someone with a similar name and date of birth) it will be listed by the CRB… under the old name.

When this sort of problem can occur, it’s not surprising that Trans folk might find themselves a little wary of applying for jobs that require a CRB check. The risk of being outed for many is too great. As is often the case, the incessant need by the civil service to document and track everything and every one creates yet another invisible form of oppression against a minority.

An unsophisticated attack on Clegg from Quentin “Letts” Rathbone

Mr Rathbone – or Quentin Letts as he sometimes likes to be called – seems to have it in for Clegg, presumably as Nick has been blocking the more right-wing, homophobic, misogynistic and generally oppressive policies that Quentin and his fans would like to see. He’s criticizing Clegg in his Daily Mail column (Istyosty link) for managing to fit in “doing the school run” alongside his job as Deputy Prime Minister.

Personally, I’m not seeing the issue. I’d rather have someone in charge who has managed whatever semblance of a work-life one can achieve in such a post instead of a slave to politics. Living the job twenty-four seven might seem like a good idea in the short term, but in the long run the only things such a politician will be in touch with will be a caffeine addiction and a constant nagging worry about a growing waistline.

There’s no chance whatsoever that Quentin might feel some general animosity towards the tabloid-clique-shunning Liberal Democrats, given that he’s an ex News International hack. Or that he’s on the defensive, worried about the future of his fine, upstanding and inscrutably honest profession.

Quit your sniggering at the back. What do you think this is, Prime Ministers Questions?

Not that simple LibDem-bashing is enough for Quentin Rathbone. (nee Letts, although he refused to take his wife’s name when he married her in 1996) He has to throw in some male chauvinism too, for consumption by the Daily Mail readership.

He throws in a bit of misogyny by referring to Nick’s wife Miriam as “Mrs. Clegg — or Ms González Durántez, as we are sometimes instructed to call her”. We’re told Miriam is somehow failing in her wifely duty by not being at home the whole time doing Nick’s laundry, never mind the fact that she is partner in a major law firm. Oh, and she co-wrote a book… and has written a few articles on lawyerly topics to boot.

Still, Quentin thinks “It would be absurd to argue that political wives should return to some caricature of Fifties domesticity and be waiting at the door, pinny round the waist and with dinner on the table, when the hubby returns late at night.

So that’s OK then – pinnys must be out. Perhaps he’s not a fan of that particular piece of clothing.

Miriam sounds like my kind of woman. I do home Mr Quentin “Letts” Rathbone ends up stuck in a lift with Miriam for a bit. It could be fun… but not for him.

News Corp and the Nuclear Option

Note: I originally wrote this last night following a conversation with Sarah. I’d intended it for the new UK edition of the Huffington Post, but they’ve had a lot of people writing on this and, well, events have moved on. I’d hate for it to not to get an airing, so here it is…

“This is their expenses scandal” commented my partner over a cup of tea earlier, “only it’s just beginning”.

Quite what is beginning is still to be seen. Entrapment and similar tactics against politicians phones has been part of the game since time immemorial. And celebrities set themselves up for it. But nothing is going to upset the British public quite as much as the idea that they might have hacked into the voicemail of a murdered child.

Well, a missing photogenic white girl, anyway. Black or Asian boys from the wrong part of town… probably deserved it or something. (I note that the front cover of Wednesday’s Metro, when discussing who else might have fallen prey to the scandal, featured photos of… yes, five pretty white girls.)

What remains? Many MPs rely on the press to get elected. Much of their “grass roots” support relies on the party doing well to hold on to posts in county and borough councils up and down the country. In this environment, MPs were hardly likely to act publicly. If any needed reminding, the attack on Vince Cable when it got out that he was against Murdoch served as a timely reminder.

(It would not surprise me to hear that Vince had been sighted roaming the corridors of power this week with a slightly smug grin at the latest news)

But it wasn’t the politicians that fired the latest salvo in the War on Murdoch. It was the media. Sensing blood in the water, politicians were quick to close in.

An inquiry has been announced, but will it have teeth? Will the politicians go for the kill? They may not, fearing what other dirt the journalists may have or may dig up… Or, heaven forbid, simply fabricate. (With a get-out clause in paragraph nine that nobody will read of course. If that fails, they may face the Press Complaints Commission’s ultimate sanction: A short apology a few months later buried on Page 13, sandwiched between a story on a lost dog and an advert for the latest designer plant pots.)

Politicians face the nuclear dilemma: “If we strike, will they strike back? Or will they hold what they have in reserve as a deterrent against future attacks?”

News Corp and it’s journalists face a similar quandary. If they find themselves under fire, can they win? If they consider they are doomed anyway, perhaps better to hold on to that reserve. Should News Corp prove fatally wounded, the individual journalists might still be able to take their knowledge elsewhere and seek employment at other publications.

But if someone flinches and we see Mutually Assured Destruction, perhaps there is one group now able to reap the benefits: Vince Cable and his Liberal Democrat colleagues in cabinet.