Hidden statistics

I’ve been waiting for a couple of days to comment on the recently reported complaint statistics for Wiltshire Police. The figures quoted by the Adver don’t seem to add up.

The number of people making complaints against police in the county rose to 284 in 2008/09 – up from 234 the year before…. However, allegations made against police in Swindon fell from 175 to 148 over the same period…. Out of the 483 complaints made against Wiltshire Police, just over half (53 per cent) were locally resolved, which is the third highest nationally.

So is that 284 complaints or 483? Unfortunately, the Police Complaints Commission report to which the Adver refers has gone missing from their website: the links on their statistics page go nowhere for the 2008/09 statistics. What I can see, from last year’s report, is that the Wiltshire police were then subject of 234 complaints and 433 allegations. So it appears that in reporting the latest statistics, the Adver’s Ms Hilley has got a little confused between allegations and complaints. That’s despite writing in her report

People who complained made 1.7 allegations each on average.

To be clear: one complaint can cover several allegations. But then one can hardly blame Ms Hilley for being a little confused, as the press release — a fairly bland bit of whitewash — does its best to blur the distinction too.

As in previous years most complaints are about ‘neglect of duty’ (24%) and ‘incivility’ (21%), essentially being rude and late. The proportion of all allegations that are substantiated is 10%.

There, in just two sentences, they heave a large dollop of mud into the already less than crystal clear statistical waters. With complaints nationally rising steadily in recent years, it’s no doubt something the government would rather not be that clear about.