When figures are not facts
‘‘Ullo, ullo, ullo – what’s going on here then?’’ was the cliche in the days when policemen rode bikes to the scenes of crimes – ‘‘offences’’ as they say in their trade – like kids raiding orchards or pocketing milk money left at family gates.
Then the PCs parked their bikes carefully, took off bike clips from around their ankles before producing a notebook to take down names, ages, place of birth and addresses.
That process doesn’t fit in today’s climate of radar speed camera on roads, Taser guns on tough guys and electronic gadgets on ankles relaying the exact place where crims are at any given time. If they’re still in the country, that is.
Nor would some equivalent process like that have automatically prevented the brief but embarrassing losing of convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith (who is actually Phillip John Traynor, now briefly, we trust, of Rio de Janeiro).
That faulty system in which police failed to check a birthplace, date and real name – and the court system has followed suit in trial after trial – better not happen again. Neither should the ‘‘wait and see’’ reaction from departmental heads who failed to sound alarm as soon as his escape was obvious.
Then there was that Beehive clanger which had then Police Minister Anne Tolley taking totally false figures to the Cabinet and quoting them publicly as the reason for a projected drive against gangs. How wrong? You be the judge. Her worrying statistics were: ‘‘Four thousand gang members were responsible for 1517 serious drug and violence crimes between Janu- ary and April this year.’’
Wrong! The actual figures were 26 out of 649 serious drug charges against gang members and 61 of 868 violence charges.
Sociologist and gang researcher Dr Jarrod Gilbert blew the whistle on that which prompted a spokesman in the office of new Police Minister Michael Woodhouse to draw heavily from Yes, Minister scripts.
Wrong figures? His response (Sir Humphrey would have been proud of him): ‘‘It is unfortunate that some figures required clarification.’’ Or even a correction. Maybe the actual figures suggest that any decisions made on the false ‘‘facts’’ need a second look.
Like figures in a new report on New Zealand family violence from the panel set up by Sir Owen Glenn.
Their figures quoted economist Suzanne Snively and Sherilee Kahui as saying ‘‘family violence cost New Zealand between $4.1 billion and $7b a year’’.
Snively’s last estimate in 1994 was $1b.
When the higher figure of $7b was challenged, inquiry spokeswoman Marie McNicholas declined to comment. She referred questions to Snively.
Snively said the data was prepared by Kahui.
Kahui said the $7b ‘‘high-end’’ figure was added after experts in Auckland and Wellington said they believed the true domestic violence victimisation rates were higher than the ‘‘moderate scenario’’ rates of 18.2 per cent for women and 1.9 per cent for men.
‘‘We were struggling to find empirical evidence of an estimate that would be higher than 18.2 per cent so it was about finding something higher.’’
Perhaps the reason was that they were struggling too hard ‘‘to find something higher’’ because there wasn’t anything higher.
Are the panel going to explain, preferably in simple figures and words of one syllable? In the postbag:
‘‘Your column (on Auckland Council moves to enforce compulsory painting of roofs, to avoid rain caus- ing the spread of zinc) caught my eye.
‘‘Are you aware the Auckland Council’s sports-field capacity programme involves approximately 37 field surfaces to be installed using (recycled tyre) crumb rubber over the next 10 years?
‘‘The crumb rubber has zinc among its leachates/toxic contents.’’ – Brian Carter, Mt Albert
PB: Thank you. No, I wasn’t aware but I am now – watch this space.
Name please: Phillip Smith shortly after his arrest in Brazil.