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 right" I 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 possibility" came the level reply.
I left the Home Office without ever learning what the outcome of the enquiry was.
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.
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.
Appended blog post follows