Safety in Numbers?

Twenty-first century criminology is increasingly predicated on numbers. Whilst quantitative research is perceived to be “hard data”; the scientific, gold standard, it runs the risk of dehumanising vulnerable people with very little benefit.

PBowles

Paula Bowles has taught Criminology at the University of Northampton since 2010. Her research interests focus on historical criminology, zemiology, state and institutional violence.

 

In childhood, I loved numbers, the ability to manipulate, rearrange, reorder, substitute one for another, to create symmetry and yet always end up with an answer. Numbers were as abstract as a jigsaw puzzle, lots of meaningless pieces that, if assembled in the right way, meant that eventually the whole picture would emerge. Along the way the process could go awry, but there was always certainty, always an answer: a solution to the problem. Importantly, that puzzle or equation could be tackled again and again, and provided all the pieces were in order, the solution would be rendered visible once more.

In adult life, my love of numbers has dissipated, primarily because of their application to people. With a global population inexorably heading toward 8 billion, we have to accept that there are an awful lot of us, even so, the relegation of human beings to a mere number is discomfiting. This aversion to numbering people partly stems from academic study of the Nazi Holocaust, which was facilitated by a determination to reduce individual human lives, first to digits, and then to ashes. It also comes from lived experience: in criminology, as in education, there is a plethora of evidence demonstrating that people can, and do change, often in dramatic ways.

Over sixty years ago, Mannheim accused criminologists of creating an ‘almost general impression […] that everything is known in this field,’ suggesting that ‘most of our “knowledge consists of half-baked truths and slogans, of unwarranted generalizations derived from a small body of observations and inadequate samples’ (1955: 133). Furthermore, criminologists such as Stanley Cohen (1988), Nils Christie (1997) and Jock Young (2011) have long recognised the fundamental flaws, inherent in much of what we now consider the bedrock of scientific criminology. They identify how numbers are often used to obfuscate and confuse, pulling readers down a route, whereby those numbers are presented as having their own intrinsic meaning. Such meaning is entirely distinct from the people whose data is being manipulated. Additionally, those numbers are deemed precise scientific and authoritative, having far more sway than any qualitative research predicated on finding meaning in individual lives.

Despite my antipathy to numbers, recently my attention has been drawn to the concept of self-efficacy, in relation to offender desistance, often focused on prisoners. Much of this research appears flawed in the same way as recognised by the eminent criminologists above. Instead of answering what appears be a straightforward question, many of these reports struggle to even define what they are trying to measure, let alone make sense of the measurements. Certainly, Young’s evocative ‘Datasaur,’ with its belly bloated with complex statistical analysis, seems to loom large in such research (2011: 15)

One recent paper which caught my eye, purports to measure self-efficacy within a local prison, HMP Onley, suggesting that a particular programme can improve both mental health and behaviour (Kelley et al., 2017).  This paper, like very many others in Criminology, appears to offer the promise of tackling a deeply engrained historical penal problem.  This article is formatted in the expected manner, contains lots of academic references and appears in a well-respected journal, all of which sounds extremely encouraging. There is no apparent ethical consideration, but the use of academic language, inclusion of 8 hypotheses, as well as the use of a range of different measures (all represented by acronyms) gives a perception of scientific rigour. There are lots of equations, lots of authoritative statements, even some tables.

However, what exactly do we know? I would argue, very little. It is clear that out of 179 prisoners able to take part in the programme, 53 actually completed it, furthermore another 39 made up a control group. From here, the language changes from numbers to percentages to discuss the demographic background of the men involved in the project. In relation to crimes committed and sentences handed down, the paper becomes far vaguer and there is not even the illusion of measurable activity.

Whilst this is but one article, of very many, the repercussions to such research can be profound. The lack of awareness around the pains of incarceration and the reduction of human experiences to quantitative tests as a measure of “self-efficaciousness” is troubling. Furthermore, such a focus implies that individuals have total control over their improvement: if they do not score well on the tests, this can only be due to their inertia, inability or incompetence. By ignoring the carceral experience, any such numbers can only be indicative, as fundamentally, those numbers represent people with their own ideas, fears, worries and behaviours. Discussions around the types of programmes, particularly when based on payment by results, seem to miss this vital point, but of course it means that failure to achieve measurable results can be blamed on individuals and companies. Of course, none of the above denies quantitative data a place within Criminology, but it has to be meaningful, not just a series of bland statements, algebraic equations and tedious charts.

As Christie makes clear, far too many criminologists focus on ‘[l]ong reports of the obvious. Repetitions. Elaborate calculations leading to what we all know’ (Christie, 1997: 13). Instead of rushing to amass quantitative data that looks and is perceived as sophisticated, yet tells us virtually nothing, we need to consider what Criminology is really about. Instead of continuing to churn out criminology that is ‘dull, tedious and intensely empty as to new insights’, Christie insists we look to the roots of our discipline (1997: 13). He insists that criminology is ‘a science based on material from the core areas of drama. Our theories are based on situations of conflict and heroism, danger and catastrophe, abuses and sacrifices’ (Christie, 1997: 13).

As criminologists, we have a duty to be far more critical, taking nothing for granted and avoiding the dissemination of the trivial!

References:

Christie, Nils, (1997), ‘Four Blocks Against Insight: Notes on the Oversocialization of Criminologists,’ Theoretical Criminology, 1, 1: 13-23

Cohen, Stanley, (1988), Against Criminology, (Oxford: Transaction Books)

Kelley, Thomas M., Hollows, Jacqueline, Lambert, Eric G., Savard, Dennis M. and Pransky, Jack, (2017), Teaching Health Versus Treating Illness: The Efficacy of Three Principles Correctional Counseling with People in an English Prison’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X17735253: 1-26

Mannheim, Hermann, (1955), Group Problems in Crime and Punishment and Other Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited)

Young, Jock, (2011), The Criminological Imagination, (London: Polity Press)

Contact

Paula Bowles, Senior Lecturer in Criminology,  University of Northampton

Email: Paula.Bowles@northampton.ac.uk

Twitter: @paulabowles

https://thoughtsfromthecriminologyteam.wordpress.com/

Copyright free image: from Pixabay

 

Crime and ASB victimisation on Social Renters

A TseloniAndromachi Tseloni leads the Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU. Her research revolves around risk and protective factors of (repeat) crime victimisation, perceived crime risk and disorder, and the role of security and routine activities in the crime drop.

 

Rich Pickford takes the lead on facilitating RPickfordconnections between researchers, communities, business and citizens and maximising the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work.

 

 

Social renting households experience the highest levels of crime victimisation by housing tenure types according to research based on national crime statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. At a period of sustained reduction in crime it is imperative to recognise and seek solutions for groups who have not benefited from this crime drop.

Nottingham Trent University’s Quantitative and Spatial Criminology (QSC) Research Group has done in-depth research in this area. This article will highlight research and recommendations related to Social Renters with a particular focus on:

  • Household Crime
  • Personal Crime
  • Witnessing or Experiencing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB)

Extensive analysis of various years of crime survey data (from 1990s through to 2014) undertaken by the first author highlights that social renters experienced between double and 10 times the national average household crimes depending on their area of residence and year of victimisation (Tseloni et al. 2004; Tseloni 2006). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • 70% more household thefts;
  • 40% more criminal damage (Osborn and Tseloni 1998);
  • 50% more burglaries including attempts (Hunter and Tseloni 2016); and
  • roughly 40% more burglaries and household thefts.

Crucially social renters’ relative burglary risk has tripled compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (Tseloni and Thompson forthcoming).

The QSC’s research and testing in Nottingham shows that deploying the WIDE combination of household security has the biggest impact. WIDE stands for Windows that lock with a key, Internal lights on timer, Door double or dead locks, and External lights on a sensor. Homes in England and Wales with this combination are 49 times safer from burglary with entry than those without any security devices (Tseloni et al. 2017). The moderate cost of this combination makes it an attractive prevention tool that can be widely deployed. Further research shows it is also the most cost effective & environmentally friendly system of burglary prevention (Skudder et al. 2017). By contrast alarms on average moderately increase the risk of burglary (Tilley et al. 2015).

We recommend that social renter providers deploy the WIDE principles across their housing stock, and be prudent on relying on burglar alarms to prevent burglaries.

WIDE

Window locks, Internal lights, Door double or dead locks, External lights.

Social renters experience 40% more personal crimes within their neighbourhood (within a 15’ walk from home) than owner occupiers regardless of where their neighbourhood is situated (Tseloni and Pease 2015). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • an increased number of thefts from person and robberies (Thompson 2014);
  • 85% higher odds of assault in the night-time economy (Garius 2016); and
  • nearly double number of violence incidents perpetrated by acquaintances, that is people they know just to speak to casually / just by sight, neighbours, workmates / work colleagues, clients / members of public contacted through work, friends / acquaintances, or local children (Tseloni 2016).

Also social renters’ relative risk of violence by acquaintances has moderately increased compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (ibid).

This research highlights the increased risks faced by social renters. The QSC research has informed engagement and awareness campaigns and we are happy to talk further about this work. It has nudged the Office for National Statistics to provide the online individual victimisation predictor tool (Pease and Tseloni 2014). It can help national and local crime prevention agencies and crime and safety partnerships to understand their area risk profile for a variety of crime types and target messaging to support clients (Hunter et al, 2018; Hunter 2017). These research findings could be used to lobby government and local policy makers to ensure resources are allocated to this pressing issue.

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a term that includes a wide and diverse mix of ‘social disorders or incivilities’ which can range from harassment and intimidating behaviour to dangerous or inconsiderate vehicle driving. The Crime Survey for England and Wales identifies 13 types of ASB whereas the police classifies reported ASB into three possible but not mutually exclusive categories: personal, nuisance and environmental.

Social renters have in comparison to owner occupiers higher odds of experiencing or witnessing ASB by roughly:

  • 30% with regards to criminal ASB (this includes criminal damage / graffiti, harassment / intimidation, others using / dealing drugs, dangerous dogs, and indecent sexual acts);
  • 20% with regards to inconsiderate social ASB (this includes inconsiderate behaviour, loud music / noise, litter / dog fouling, nuisance neighbours, and begging / vagrancy / homeless);
  • 40% with regards to vehicle related ASB; and
  • 20% with regards to ASB from groups hanging about (Ward et al. 2017).

These figures have highlighted a real need to further understand this issue.  The QSC team are currently undertaking further research on ASB.  If you wish to be kept informed of this research please contact the research lead, Dr. Becky Thompson, at rebecca.thompson02@ntu.ac.uk.

We hope our research is used as justification and evidence to stakeholders and partners to tackle traditional volume crimes and ASB by directing scarce crime prevention resources towards target hardening social renting households and their physical environments.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University is continuing to develop research in this area.  We are keen to work with crime prevention agencies to make society a safer place by developing collaborative work. Further research is currently being developed on similar issues, including, for example, investigating the place and community cohesion effects on crime rates and perceived victimisation risk.

If you are interested in hearing more about this research or some of our previous studies highlighted here on burglary and violence we welcome your contact. Our work is always undertaken with partners tackling issues outside of academia and we value the opportunity to test and develop our research in this way to ensure it has non-academic use and value.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU has vast expertise in producing internationally leading research often in collaboration with crime prevention agencies that informs public protection policies. Our aim is to develop a better understanding of the factors that shape victimisation across different crime types and ASB in order to inform crime reduction and public reassurance initiatives. The group has extensive expertise in Public Protection informing research, in particular identifying population groups and areas vulnerable to crime and ASB, effective and efficient crime prevention initiatives and their evaluation.

 Academic References

Garius, L.L. (2016) Opportunities for physical assault in the night-time economy in England and Wales, 1981-2011/12. PhD Thesis, Loughborough University.

Hunter, J. (2017) “Helping police forces to engage with their local communities: A bespoke Community Engagement Area Classification at the LSOA level across the East Midlands.” Report to the College of Policing.

Hunter, J., Garius, L., Hamilton, P. and Wahidin, A. (2018) Who steals from shops, and why?, in V. Ceccato and R. Armitage (eds.) International Perspectives on Retail Crime. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (in print).

Hunter, J. and Tseloni, A. (2016) Equity, justice and the crime drop: The case of burglary in England and Wales. Crime Science. 5(3). DOI10.1186/s40163-016-0051-z Open Access.

Osborn, D.R. and Tseloni, A. (1998) The distribution of household property crimes. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 14, 307-330.

Pease, K. and Tseloni, A. (2014) Using modelling to predict and prevent victimisation. Springer-Brief Criminology Series, New York: Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-03184-2 (Print) 978-3-319-03185-9 (Online).

Skudder, H., Brunton-Smith, I., Tseloni, A., McInnes, A., Cole, J., Thompson, R. and Druckman, A. (2017) Can Burglary Prevention be Low Carbon and Effective? Investigating the environmental performance of burglary prevention measures. Security Journal. DOI: 10.1057/s41284-017-0091-4 Open Access.

Thompson, R. (2014) Understanding Theft from the Person and Robbery of Personal Property Victimisation Trends in England and Wales, 1994-2010/11. PhD Thesis, Nottingham Trent University. ​

Tilley, N., Thompson, R., Farrell, G., Grove, L. and Tseloni, A. (2015) Do burglar alarms increase burglary risk? A counter-intuitive finding and possible explanations. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 17(1), 1-19 DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1057/cpcs.2014.17 Open Access.

Tseloni, A. (2006) Multilevel modelling of the number of property crimes: Household and area effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A-Statistics in Society, 169, Part 2, 205-233.

Tseloni (2016) “Stranger and acquaintance violence in England and Wales: Trends, equity and threats.” Crime Surveys Users Meeting, Royal Statistical Society, London. 9 December 2016. Also see: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/ project/178996/overview/violence_trends).

Tseloni, A. and Pease, K. (2015) Area and individual differences in personal crime victimisation incidence: The role of individual, lifestyle /routine activities and contextual predictors. International Review of Victimology, 21(1), 3-29.

Tseloni, A. and Thompson, R. (forthcoming) Highly targeted population groups lacking adequate burglary security over time, in A. Tseloni, R. Thompson and N. Tilley (eds.) Household Burglary and Security. Springer. See also http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/project/178965/overview/burglary_security).

Tseloni, A., Thompson, R., Grove, L., Tilley, N. and Farrell, G. (2017) The effectiveness of burglary security devices. Security Journal, 30(2), 646-664. DOI: 10.1057/sj.2014.30 Open Access.

Tseloni, A., Wittebrood, K., Farrell, G. and Pease K. (2004) Burglary victimisation in the U.S., England and Wales, and the Netherlands: Cross-national comparison of routine activity patterns. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 66-91.

Ward, B., Thompson, R. and Tseloni, A. (2017) “Understanding Anti-Social Behaviour.” Report to the College of Policing.

Contact

Andromachi Tseloni, Professor of Quantitative Criminology, School of Social Sciences,  andromachi.tseloni@ntu.ac.uk

Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer, Nottingham Civic Exchange, richard.pickford@ntu.ac.uk | @NottsCivicEx | http://bit.ly/2qhBfB8

Copyright free images: from author and https://pixabay.com/