Des Conway has over 20 years security experience, which combines police service with commercial security consultancy. He is experienced in undertaking security reviews of domestic and commercial properties, delivering reports highlighting vulnerabilities, and recommending simple, affordable and achievable countermeasures.
We have discussed criminals and the ways they target us. We have discussed some statistics and reports on the level and value of crime, but I want to take a moment to try to put all of this into perspective.
Generally the front pages of newspapers are the only source of information that the average person has on the level of crime. Unfortunately newspapers are sold by what is on the front page. They rely on people buying the paper to read the story behind the front page picture or headline. That of course means that editors are motivated to make the front page as spectacular and as lurid as possible, because if they do they will sell more papers.
Newspapers often give the impression that society has broken down and that we live in a time of urban warfare between criminal armies and helpless citizens. However, crime levels are nowhere near as bad as most people think!
There is a high and increasing level of crime in this country. Vehicle crime and burglary seem to be climbing steeply, but statistically the average person is unlikely to be affected by it.
The more you can do to protect yourself from crime by removing vulnerabilities and avoiding risks and threats, the less likely you are to be affected by crime.
When you have worked through this book, your eye and thought processes should have been educated to allow you to see potential threats. That will allow you to identify countermeasures and changes that will reduce or remove those threats.
REMEMBER if the average person is statistically unlikely to be the victim of a crime, reading and acting on the advice and information in this book will make you highly unlikely to be the victim of crime
The Value of Statistics
When most people see a report, they unquestioningly accept the statistics that are shown. They seem to be official, scientific and therefore trustworthy!
The reality is they may be, but they may not be. Will Rogers once said: ‘There are lies, damn lies and statistics.’ I don’t think I would go that far in condemning all statistics, but I have seen occasions where officially released statistics have been misleading if not blatantly wrong.
As an absolutely ludicrous example, I recently saw the officially published results of a survey. The report heading stated ‘97% of employees victim of assault’.
That grabbed my attention so I took the time to read through it. I couldn’t help digging further to find out where this hotbed of violence was. In doing so I found that the results were invalid, and the report heading was sensationalist with no founding at all in the statistics that had been produced.
In part of the survey they had asked employees ‘Have you or a colleague been the victim of an assault during the last 12 months?’ With that as a survey question, in my opinion any results collected were clearly worthless, and any conclusions drawn from the survey results were therefore totally invalid.
Allow me to explain in case you missed it. Take a moment to consider that survey question. To make the mathematics easier, let’s assume that 100 people work in the establishment where the survey was taken. They are then asked that question, ‘Have you or a colleague been the victim of an assault during the last 12 months?’
If in ‘scenario A’, 11 months and 29 days before the survey was taken, one single employee had been pushed once by a customer, all of the staff at that company would have to answer ‘yes’, because they ‘or a colleague’ had been the victim of violence during the past year.
Statistically that is 100%. Assume a few members of staff were on holiday when the survey was taken or didn’t bother responding and we have 97% of staff answering yes. Exactly like the published survey behind that frantic newspaper headline.
In ‘scenario B’, almost the opposite could be true. Using the same assumed 100 employees, perhaps in this case every one of the employees had personally been the victim of violence on a weekly basis over the past year.
That adds up to one assault per employee per week = 5,200 assaults over the last year. When the survey is taken a few employees are still in hospital recovering from their latest assault so there is only a 97% response rate.
In both scenario A and scenario B, statistically and correctly there is a 97% affirmative response, but because of the loose wording of the question the reality behind that is radically different. In scenario A, there was only one minor assault almost a year ago, and in scenario B, 5,200 assaults over the past year, 100 assaults per week!
Let’s take another look at that survey. What if we change the question to ‘Have you personally been the victim of assault at work during the last year?’ That is more specific and definite, we can’t go wrong with that, can we? Have you been assaulted – yes or no? So what would you think if I told you I had been out and asked 100 people that question with the result that 43% stated that they had been assaulted at work during the last 12 months?
That is terrible. Nearly half of the people I asked have personally been assaulted at work within the last year. There is no confusion over the question, it was them, they were assaulted, not a friend or colleague or relative! The results clearly show that 43 out of a hundred had been assaulted. That sounds really bad, there are obviously an awful lot of people getting assaulted at work!
But wait – we’re suspicious about surveys and statistics now. The question looks good, no ambiguity there. What else can we find out about the survey?
What if I told you it was taken in a hospital casualty unit in the night club area of a major city at 11 on a Friday night? Does the statistical integrity still stand? Could it be that we got such a high number of employee assaults because we are taking the survey in a place where victims of assaults tend to gather? Would it help to admit that three quarters of those employees were security staff and bouncers from the clubs and pubs around town? Would we have got the same results if we had taken the survey outside the library at ten o’clock on a Sunday morning?
Wrong question – again
Could we have asked the wrong question as well? It is possible to ask a leading question or phrase a question in such a way that we will get the answer we want. As a silly example to tie in with our assault at work survey, I might engineer a ‘yes’ reply with the same question but the following introduction.
‘Hello. I am trying to get the government to cut income tax. We think that too many people are getting assaulted at work and if we can prove that in this survey, the government will cut income tax by 5%, which means that the average person will be £100 a week better off. So could you tell me please have you personally been the victim of assault at work during the last year?’
What? A tax cut if I’ve been assaulted at work in the last year – sure, I’ve been assaulted a half a dozen times (when do I get the £1,200?).
We could take another approach with the same question but engineer a negative response.
‘Hello. Sorry to waste your time but I’m asking real men about assaults at work. Apparently weak, scared, spineless men are claiming that they have been assaulted at work. We want to know the truth so we are asking real men have you personally been the victim of assault at work during the last year?’
Weak? Scared? Spineless? No mate, not me, I’ve never been assaulted, nobody would dare to try to assault me!
So, as we have seen, statistics – especially those concerning levels of crime – are open to question. They may not be as reliable as the newspaper scare stories would have us believe.