Friday, September 21, 2007

Great Detective Fiction

Home Office detection hat
"Great Scott, Holmes!"

Watson rocked back as if he'd just been struck by a Deputy Prime Minister.

Holmes didn't respond, intent as he was on gobbling Mrs Hudson's outstandingly plumptious chipolatas.

Watson rocked back again. "I said Great Scott, Holmes!"

The Great Detective finished his breakfast, pursed his mysteriously pale lips, and delicately swabbed them with a lavender mouchoir. "I did hear you the first time, Watson. What is it now?"

Watson slid a thin document across the table. "Take a look at this."

Holmes glanced down at the offering and sniffed. "At a rough estimation, I should say this has been produced for a lady. A lady who currently finds herself in a situation of some delicacy, and for whom danger lurks round every corner! I also deduce it has been produced by individuals of foreign extraction, quite possibly residing in London illegally, and almost certainly sporting red beards of a most singular cut!"

Watson stared at him open mouthed. "What are you going on about Holmes? You haven't been putting absinthe on your Coco Pops again, have you?" He grabbed the document back and waved it excitedly. "Look! These are the latest crime detection stats from the Home Office. And according to them, that fool Inspector Lestrade has somehow discovered how to detect criminals! Detection rates up another 2% last year. Don't you see? We'll soon be out of a job!"

Holmes smiled dismissively. "I am perfectly well aware of the Home Office statistics, Watson. I merely point out that the current Home Secretary, a certain Ms Smith, has been pitched into a post about which she knows absolutely nothing, and which requires extremely delicate obfuscatory skills she may well lack." He paused to insert the Royal Navy Shag more firmly into his calabash. "Moreover, I should have thought that anyone taking a post where the three immediately preceding office holders all disappeared in the night amid a cacophony of barking, should consider themselves in the gravest danger."

Watson gasped. "And the illegal foreigners?"

"Come, come Watson. Even you must recall the case of the illegal immigrants employed at the Home Office. There must be thousands of them in there by now."

"But Holmes, foreigners or not, these stats show that the overall police detection rate has increased significantly. Admittedly, it was still only 26% in 2006-07, but that's up from under 20% just three years ago. I tell you, we're toast."

Holmes struck a match across the patch of rough skin on Watson's forehead. "Really, my good Doctor, please try to stay in period." The flame played across the bowl of his Lignum aquila calabash and he drew heavily.

"Now listen, Watson. For one thing, a 26% detection rate is still pisspoor- remember, my own rate is 100%, and I don't have 141,000 police officers to help.

And then those stats are not quite what they're cracked up to be. Most of the so-called 'detection' is not detection at all. It's certainly not detection like I do it, or Poirot does it, or Morse, or Miss Marple, or any of us real detectives. No, the way the police crack cases is by getting the victims to do it.

Take shoplifting: 294,304 offences reported, 182,893 detected, a detection rate of 62%. Not bad. Until you realise that the vast majority of those detections are done by private security staff working for the victim shops themselves. All the police do is come along and take the credit. Plus of course, most shoplifting never gets reported to the police in the first place because it's a waste of everyone's time- it's much more likely to get reported if the criminal has already been apprehended, thus further biasing the apparent detection rate.

Or take violence against the person. For much of that crime recorded by the police, the victim actually knows the identity of the assailant. All the police have to do is ask the victim- there's certainly no sleuthing involved. So a detection rate of 46%- while above the average- is still very poor.

It's when you look at the many crimes where the victim does not know the identity of the criminal that you see how poor the police are at real detection: robbery- 18%; burglary- 14%; theft from a vehicle- 9%. And as for theft of a bicycle, with a 5% detection rate, you might as well not bother reporting it at all.

Apart from which, the Home Office has such arcane and constantly shifting crime counting rules, and such peculiar definitions of what qualifies as a detected crime, that even detective genii such as myself can't be arsed to fathom out their claims.
Quite frankly, my dear Watson, this report is a work of pure fiction."

Holmes closed his eyes, a seraphic smile playing across his lips.

Watson shifted uncomfortably. "Well... yes, yes... I knew that. Of course. I'm not a fool." He pensively rubbed his scorched forehead. "Do you think Ms Smith's red beard is natural?"

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