Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Secret of Boggart Hill: A case study in dysology

Archived at: http://archive.is/vhOT0

And archived with appended blog post at: http://archive.is/jshLP

The truth is at least as strange as TV cop show fiction

The US Department of Justice, COPS Office Problem Oriented Policing Centre has published online a copy of the British Home Office report: Consolidating Police Crackdowns: findings from and anti-burglary project - here.   
A visit to the British Home Office website for a list of its research publications will reveal that this same Policing Research Series Paper 113 is strangely absent.
In the Home Office listing of its reports in the UK National Archives here    you will see that there is a report 112 and a report 114. But where you would expect to see report number 113 it says very mysteriously: "Series number will not be used." Is this akin, you might wonder, to hotels supposedly not having an unlucky 13th floor?
The real reason is even stranger than that. The Home Office never published its policing research report number 113 because there was an untold policing scandal. Untold, that is, until now.
Whilst working as a Senior Research Officer in the Home Office Policing and Reducing Crime Unit in 1998, one of my many duties was to help external authors of our reports to write up their research in the "Home Office house style" and see them through the peer review and publication process.
The authors of Report 113 produced an excellent product. Their work clearly demonstrated that a process named crackdown and consolidation had worked to significantly reduce domestic burglary in a high crime area named Boggart Hill. The crackdown was on burglars and in large part involved police officers going all out to recruit informants in order to gain intelligence on all 'known' local burglars and arresting them with an aim to get them off the streets and so out of peoples houses.
So delighted was the Home Office to have commissioned an experiment that was shown to be effective that we wanted to launch Report 113 with a major press conference attended by a senior Home Office politician - possibly even the Home Secretary - and representatives of the officers involved.
In 1998 I telephoned a senior police officer in the Yorkshire constabulary that was involved in the project. Only then did I realise that something was amiss. Rather than the expected gush of enthusiasm that usually comes from police services wishing to be attributed with best practice honours they were extremely cagey and said a more senior officer would call me back.
Half an hour later I was on the phone again with a senior police officer to learn that the officers involved in the project were suspended from duties on suspicion of bribing police informants with heroin.
"Let me get this rightI said to the bearer of this shocking news “are you saying that the reason this project was such a remarkable success is because the most effective burglary reduction method known to mankind is to bribe police informants with cop-grade heroin?"
"Until the outcome of our enquiries and the hearings involving the officers concerned that is a serious possibilitycame the level reply.
I left the Home Office without ever learning what the outcome of the enquiry was.
The "missing" Boggart Hill Report
You may draw your own conclusions about the fact that all of the many hundreds of printed copies of report number 113 were incinerated. Today, perhaps only a handful of 'collectors' copies remain in underground circulation within the criminological community.
If any police service anywhere in the world is seeking to replicate the good news claimed for what works to reduce burglary that is contained within Report 113, which is strangely published on the influential US Government's Department of Justice COPS Office website, they would perhaps wish to know that a secret cop-grade heroin bribe component may well be a missing and possibly a most important variable explaining what actually worked.

Don't keep research secrets

It is unethical to keep research secrets about why projects worked because others trying to replicate that project's success may fail and not know why. Without the benefit of otherwise hidden knowledge, scarce and valuable manpower and financial resources may well be wasted on ineffective schemes.

Michael Smithson
April 7, 2011 at 7:24 pm
Very nice article, and a neat example of yet another kind of publication "bias." A more benign example from my own experience is the recent literature purporting to show that religiosity positively predicts psychological wellbeing. One of my former PhD students conducted a study that included measures of prosociality and showed that when that's included as a predictor along with religiosity, the impact of religiosity on wellbeing disappears. As my former student put it, "It isn't God, it's missing variables." The earlier researchers probably neglected prosociality because of good old confirmation bias.
Author's Post
Mike Sutton
April 8, 2011 at 5:33 am
That’s' interesting Michael. I remember reading on of those MSN snippets about the 10 factors related to living past 100 years of age.
I remember these for some reason (1) work on the land and grow and eat your own produce (2) Be a Seventh Day Adventist.
The hypotheses for the causal effect of the second is that pro-sociability of the seventh day adventists (a lot of old folk looking after one another) is good for the mind and body. So again - not God but the positive influence of having a support group. But they also (I know for a fact since my Mother in law is one) don't eat much red meat, don't smoke and hardly ever (if ever) drink alcohol. See also http://health.msn.com/health-topics/slideshow.aspx?cp-documentid=100243932&imageindex=3   
Of course the alcohol one is a wonderful conundrum since so much research shows moderate drinkers live longer than total abstainers. I've not yet discovered any research on that one that controls for the possibility of less robust individuals not coping with alcohol and so being total abstainers, or the pro-sociability possibility of being a moderate or occasional imbiber.
Appended blog post follows

Posted in Science / Social Sciences / Sociology

Police Performance Targets, Academic Performance Indicators and Ironic Unintended Consequences

Dec. 1, 2012 6:57 am

Sounds like a good idea. Done with the best of intentions and for all the right reasons. What could possibly go wrong?

(Part 1)

Mid November 2012 in Kent, England, once again police officers are arrested under suspicion of committing crimes    in order to meet government imposed targets designed to cut crime. How ironic.
In 2006, a book, written by a serving police constable from Staffordshire focuses on the various ways that the UK Government's punishing performance targets cause police officers across England and Wales to adapt by creating complex unforeseeable and inefficient crime fighting, but administration pleasing, stratagems. Moreover, these stratagems take up so much of their time that officers now have significantly less of it to spend on dealing with real crime issues. The ironic title of the book is something that is a criminal offence.    Namely, Wasting Police Time   . The book, is by PC David Copperfield (his real name is Stuart Davidson).
Copperfield's fictional Newtown is really Burton-upon Trent.
In 2006, the British New Labour Minister of State for Police, Tony McNulty MP, discussed the book on the floor of the House of Commons and dismissed it as "more of a fiction than Dickens."    Soon after, however, when confronted on national television about his bold claim, McNulty had to concede    that in fact the book was an accurate portrayal of police work under his government. Here is a portion the transcript from BBC. PANORAMA (2007):
VINE: Now back to the minister who didn't believe PC Copperfield. He's since decided he was a bit too harsh that day.
TONY McNULTY MP (Home Office Minister) I inadvertently said in the House of Commons one time that it owed more to fiction than Charles Dickens did but I recanted that because I think there is something in what he's saying about where we've got to with policing, only round the edges.
VINE: Oh really, he's right about some of it?
McNULTY: No, no, I'm not conceding the massive nature of it but round the edges... is there too much paperwork? Yes we agree. Are there better things we can do in terms of bureaucracy? Are there other things we can do to constantly improve the lot of policing and how we police? Yes there are.
VINE: That's the minister speaking. He and his colleagues now measure the police on almost everything they do. Each force has to prove how well it detects crime, but the really big question is whether the pressure to meet those targets is interfering with the way the police do their job.
STUART Davidson (AKA P.C. David Copperfield) : As a police officer detection culture means that every incident that you attend you're thinking at the back or your mind: "How can I get a detection out of this?"

Continuing with the theme of performance culture wasting police time, what follows next is a most ironic tale of double-backfire that occurred due to the unintended consequences of both policing and academic performance culture.

(Part Two)

Police Officer: "How can I get a detection out of this?"
Academic: "How can I get a citation out of this?"


US Government website - dedicated to evidence based practice - promotes a British Government's banned, shredded and incinerated report as veracious and efficacious good practice!

Banned and shredded British Home Office report is published by the US National institute of Justice COPS Office as evidence based good practice in burglary reduction
Shredded in the UK and never published. Dysology.org

Most ironically, in the USA, the Department of Justice website for the Government funded COPS Office has published a British Home Office funded report as an example of good practice in reducing burglary (e.g. here   ). For example, searching on the actual US COPS Office, Center for Problem Oriented Policing, site itself using the phrase good practice burglary reduction produces a link to the report (here    - on web page 6). Moreover, if you search the same site on anti burglary, for example,the report is top of the list of recommended reading: here    . Furthermore, the entire report has been published as a student resource at Loughborough University here    .

But why is that ironic?
The answer is because, the authors of Police Research Series Report 113 will in the long run, under the influence of academic performance culture, receive career enhancing citation score points for each time their report is cited in other literature - even if they cite it themselves; and what makes that most ironic is the fact that this very UK funded and printed Home Office report was shredded and denied a publication platform because the alleged "good crime reducing practice", turned out to be contaminated by the ill-effects of police performance culture that led police officers involved in the project to be suspended and investigated for bribing informants with heroin in order to get intelligence to crack down on burglars (Sutton 2011). In short, Home Office Police Research Series Report 113 is banned from all official Home Office publications lists, citations and associated websites because it is busted bullony.
Banned, Shredded and Burned. Yet the authors of this fallacious report are getting cited due to having it hosed by a US Government Website.

As can be seen from the above Google screenshot, to add insult to academic and evidence based practice injury, the authors of this report have received 18 academic citations as a consequence - intended or otherwise - of sending it to the unaware US Department of Justice for publication.

A search on Google Scholar reveals exactly who has been citing this British Government banned report as veracious evidence of good crime reduction practice, and in what context - such as two of the authors repeatedly citing themselves! (here,    and here   ).
The harmful impact upon individuals and communities of this citation and subsequent on-going dissemination of Report 113 in other publications as veracious and efficacious crime reduction practice can only be guessed at. Needless to say, any police service using it as a guide to reduce crime runs a high risk of completely wasting scarce crime reduction resources. And the consequences of that could, in a worst case scenario, be as fatal as when ineffective drugs are recommended for disease treatment and prevention (Goldacre, B. 2012).
Report 113 was shredded and burned

For cop-grade-heroin bribing reasons, the UK National Archive carries no copy of the banned Report 113   .

You can read more on this dreadfully ironic tale about police performance culture backfire and the results of academic impact performance culture here on Best thinking. See: Sutton 2011).

Brief Discussion of the Crackdown Criminology Myth of Report 113

Failing to address and research the crimes of the police, while choosing instead to pretend the corrupt police victimisation of their own project never happened by sending report 113 to the US Department of Justice - and also publishing it on Loughborough University’s website - as veracious evidence of good practice in burglary reduction, the authors of the report are creating a criminology myth.
What they have done cannot be undone and it ensures for them and others the perpetuation of their carefully nurtured social reality of crime (Quinney 1970). They have continued to cast the usual suspects, burglars in this case, as the only criminals worthy of their attention. By such means are the crimes of the more powerful police consciously or else sub-consciously (Mannheiim 1936) edited out of administrative criminology's scholarly ambitions by those who hold a privileged position in society to portray events and conceal events as they see fit and so can, if they wish, engage in self interested crime myth making.
Normal crime myths (as opposed to at least some examples of the recently discovered phenomenon of supermyths    that appear to have inverse characteristics to normal myths) are, according to Kappeler and Potter (2005, p. 23), not unlike Greek mythology in that:
'...modern crime myths follow certain themes for success. There must be “virtuous” heroes, “innocent” victims, and “evil” villains who pose a clear and present threat to the audience. Only then can a crime myth reach its potential. Characterizations common among myths in crime and criminal justice include: (1) the identification and targeting of a distinct deviant population; (2) the presence of an “innocent” or “helpless” victim population; (3) the emergence of brave or virtuous heroes; and (4) the existence of a substantial threat to established norms, values, values or traditional lifestyles.'
Perhaps the most telling question we need to ask about the modern and normal crime myth making of the scientifically irregular publication of report 113 is why did the authors not take the opportunity to examine the corruption of the police officers who sabotaged their research project? Why choose instead to simply portray the fallacy of the police officers involved as virtuous crime fighting heroes?
If the authors of report 113 did not have the lateral thinking ability to enable them to perceive this criminological opportunity to research a crime against their own work on crime prevention then we need to try to understand to where their legendary lateral thinking and imaginations vanished    and why? Could the answer lie in the heroic crime fighting demand for crackdowns in the title of the report itself? Observations made by experts on the social construction of crime myths suggest that it might. Kappeler and Potter (2005; p. 25), for example, cite Goode and Ben Yehuda (1994 p. 31) to argue that those in positions of power demand crackdowns to maintain the conveniently over simplistic and biased construction of a reality where their own straight society is under attack from the demonized anti-social and bent 'others':
‘…evildoers pose a threat to society and to the moral order as a consequence of their behavior, and therefore, “something should be done about them and their behaviors” (p.31). The “something” usually means strengthening social controls: “more laws, longer sentences, more police, more arrests, more prison cells. If society has become lax, a revival of traditional values may be necessary; if innocent people are victimized by crime, a crackdown on offenders will do the trick” (p. 31).


To add further irony, and a neat touch of concluding symmetry to this story, the US COPS website, which publishes the busted bullony that is report 113 as though it is good crime reduction practice    thereby encouraging police forces across to the world to invest scarce resources seeking to replicate it without knowing that the authors have presented their research stripped of the fact that corrupt police officers supplying cop grade heroin to informers is likely to be the secret ingredient of their claim for burglary reducing success - also hosts Peter Grabosky's superb book chapter on unintended consequences in crime reduction (Grabosky 1996).
Now that the Crackdown Criminology Myth of Report 113 has been revealed, we can in the future re-examine this curious case by applying lessons from the crime prevention literature in order to minimize police corruption (Gorta 2011) and perhaps work towards encouraging a groundswell of skeptical criminology focused upon cracking down on existing crime myths and consolidating against such academic dysology   .
Concluding overview in 10 key, yet tentative, points
So what exactly are we looking at here in terms of ironic unintended consequences in the case of report 113?
(1) The Home Office impose crippling competitive performance targets on police forces that ultimately impose the burden of need to achieve those targets on rank and file officers.
(2) The Home Office – under the premise that ‘The police alone cannot tackle crime', which is underpinned in no small part by their own widely cited Zombie Cop Myth (Sutton and Hodgson 2011) – fund academic criminologists to conduct crime reduction demonstration projects in partnership with the police. One such project appears amazingly successful. It is written-up, edited, and ready to publish as Police Research Series Paper 113 (report 113).
(3) Unbeknown to the academic authors of report 113, police officers assigned to the project – apparently sensing the opportunity to improve performance targets through the project and sensing the opportunity to become the next glorious globetrotting crime busting Bill Bratton with a Holy Grail crime reduction best practice project - allegedly break the law by supplying criminals with heroin in order to maximise intelligence gathering about domestic burglars in order to make the project successful.
(4) A British Home Office commissioning editor (yours truly) finds out about the officers suspended on charges of bribing informants with heroin and, on advice from senior civil servants, orders that report 113 not be published for fear that cop-grade heroin is the secret ingredient of the project’s amazing and unique success. Several thousand copies of the report are shredded and incinerated. The commissioning editor informs the authors of this official decision.
(5) At least one of the academics who conducted the research and co-authored report 113 sends the WORD file containing it to the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, where it is published on their COPS website (with zero mention of its heroin tainted past) as veracious and efficacious good practice in reducing crime.
(6) Two authors of the report and several of their close associates then cite report 113 as published on the COPS website. To date, the report is cited at least 18 times in the scholarly press (last count December 1st 2012).
(7) The book chapters and peer reviewed articles that cite report 113 as veracious and effective crime reduction practice are in turn cited many times in other publicatons.
(8) As an unintended consequence of Home Office police performance targets and their drive for evidence based practice, allegedly rogue police officers sabotaged the aims of the academics working with them. The knock-on unintended consequence of that was that academic citation performance culture led to the banned and shredded report being sent by at least one of its authors for publication on a good practice (US Government) website in the USA, and also on a British university website, and then cited (wrongly) as evidence of good practice by at least two of the authors and others in 18 publications. In sum, a double ironic backfire occurred: (a) police officers thwarted the aims of academics looking for evidence of good practice, which led to (b) academics thwarting the aims of other police officers looking for good practice examples.
(9) Authors of report 113 have created yet another administrative criminology myth, which combined with the Zombie Cop Myth (see: Sutton and Hodgson 2011) and Crime as Opportunity (Ratortunity) Myth    represents a powerful combination of fallacious forces in support of Crime Opportunity Theory.
(10) Measuring the possible harmful impact of the citation of report 113 will require considerable research.

  • This blog post is self-nominated for the Worlds Most Ironic Contest .

  • References
    BBC. PANORAMA (2007) . WASTING POLICE TIME .RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE. DATE: 17:09:07 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/7002977.stm   
    Copperfield, D. (2006) Wasting Police Time. UK. Monday Books.
    Goldacre, B. (2012) Bad Pharma: How drug companies mislead doctors and harm patients. London. Fourth Estate.
    Goode, E, and Ben Yehuda, N. (1994) Moral Panics: the social construction od deviance Cambridge, MA. Blackwell
    Gorta, A. (2011) Minimising corruption: Applying lessons from the crime prevention literature. In Natarajan, A. (2011) (Ed.) Crime Opportunity Theories. Farnham. Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
    Grabosky, P. N. ( 1996) UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF CRIME PREVENTION. In: Homel and Clarke (eds), Crime Prevention Studies, Vol 5, pp 25-56. http://www.popcenter.org/library/crimeprevention/volume_05/02_Grabosky.pdf   
    Kappeler, V. E. and Potter, G. W. (2005) The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice. Fourth Edition. Long Grove. Waveland Press.
    Laville, S (2012) Kent police officers arrested over crime statistics 'irregularities: Five officers questioned in inquiry into alleged practice of persuading prisoners to admit to unsolved crimes to meet detection targets. The Guardian. 15th November. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/nov/15/kent-police-arrested-statistics-irregularities   
    Mannheim, K. (1936). Ideology and utopia. New York. Harcourt, Brace and World.
    Quinney, R. (1970) The social reality of crime. Boston. Little Brown.
    Sutton, M. and Hodgson, P. (2011) The Problem of Zombie Cops in Voodoo Criminology: A 27 Year Old Myth About Beat Patrol Policing is Busted. Best Thinking.com: http://www.bestthinking.com/articles/science/social_sciences/sociology/the-problem-of-zombie-cops-in-voodoo-criminology-a-27-year-old-myth-about-beat-patrol-policing-is-busted
    Sutton, M. (2011) The Secret of Boggart Hill: a case study in dysology. Best Thinking.com: http://www.bestthinking.com/articles/science/social_sciences/sociology/the-secret-of-boggart-hill-a-case-study-in-dysology
    Sutton, M. (2012) On Supermyths: Their discovery, distinguishing characteristics and significance. Best Thinking.com.

    Useful further reading on this theme:

    Grabosky, P. N. (1995) Counterproductive Regulation. International Journal of the Sociology of Law. 23, 347-369.
    Kappeler, V. E. and Potter, G. W. (2005) The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice. Fourth Edition. Long Grove. Waveland Press.
    Phillips, C. (2011) Situational Crime Prevention and Crime Displacement: Myth and Miracles? First Class Student Dissertation. Internet Journal of Criminology. http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Phillips_Situational_Crime_Prevention_and_Crime_Displacement_IJC_July_2011.pdf   
    Sutton, M. (2012) Don’t be a Clownmonger: Beware the unintended consequences of unevidenced compellingly plausible initiatives. Criminology: The blog of Mike Sutton. Best Thinking.com: http://www.bestthinking.com/thinkers/science/social_sciences/sociology/mike-sutton?tab=blog&blogpostid=19139
    Sutton, M. (2011). The Hidden Impact of Research Secrets on Policy Making. The Bad Secret of Boggart Hill.Dysology.org    .

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