Statistical analysis is a dangerous tool that often cuts two ways. It’s one the Kamloops RCMP should wield carefully as it discusses its efforts to make the city a safer place.
Supt. Yves Lacasse told the City’s police committee Monday a 28-per-cent increase in the number of drug charges through the second quarter of 2012 in Kamloops is a good thing, as it shows officers have been hard at work targeting users and dealers.
More charges reflects more police work, Lacasse said. We see more charges only because officers have turned more attention to an area deserving of enforcement, and their work is producing results.
It’s an interesting “spin” on the numbers. Viewed in isolation, it even makes a bit of sense.
The trouble is stats don’t stand alone. On their own, they are largely meaningless; it is in the comparison to other stats they gain value. It is on the side-by-side analysis of some numbers with others over time that we are able to gain insight into social problems, like crime and drug use.
The same report noted crime levels overall are down. There have been fewer charges related to property crime and violence in Kamloops, inferring crime is down. Lacasse’s remarks about the drug numbers raise a natural question, however — shouldn’t the same standard of analysis be applied to all the numbers?
If more drug charges are a good thing, would not rising levels of property crime also be considered something to celebrate? How is it possible to suggest higher levels of some kinds of crime are positive, while at the same time suggesting lower levels of other kinds of crime are also positive?
Another conclusion that can be drawn from the same set of numbers is that while officers have turned their attention to drug crimes, they have stopped focussing on other areas, meaning it’s entirely possible there is as much crime in Kamloops as there has always been, perhaps even more.
The fact is, one can read too much into statistics. There is no such thing as good stats or bad ones. Statistics are numbers that serve useful purposes in some instances, and not in others.
This is an instance when citizens are poorly served by statistics, especially by off-the-cuff analysis of largely meaningless statistical trends. Supt. Lacasse should simply say as much. No one is questioning the quality of police work in Kamloops, but we might if given a reason. Hasty statistical explanations might just be the prompt.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.