This morning, 29th July 2010, regular reader and helpful sort Roger Jones – @ziksby on twatter – supplied this comment in response to my ‘Shot in the foot‘ post, which was attempting to locate the truth behind an unpleasant, sensationalist and seemingly inaccurate article about levels of gun crime in the Express & Star.
It would seem like the Express & Star article drew the attention of the local police, and Roger received an email from West Midlands Police, quoting a statement by Superintendent Keith Fraser. I quote the email in full below:
Dear Watch Member
I am sending out the following statement on behalf of Superindent Keith Fraser, head of Local Policing for Walsall Police.
“I am writing to reassure our communities in Walsall that a recent Express and Star article gave a misleading and somewhat alarmist impression of gun crime in the borough.
The article: “The most gun-plagued streets across the Black Country, Birmingham and Staffordshire” was based on figures obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.
It incorrectly stated: “In Walsall, police were called to Lichfield Road in Brownhills eight times between May 2009 and 2010.”
This demonstrates the problem of taking figures out of context and misinterpreting them. In fact, the quoted figure related to a single incident in Lichfield Road in June 2009 when a 14-year-old boy used a CS canister to spray eight pupils at a school.
The youth was arrested and dealt with. While we would not wish to minimise the seriousness of this individual incident, especially to the victims, it hardly justifies Lichfield Road being dubbed one of the “most gun-plagued streets.”
Under Home Office rules, a CS canister is classed as a “firearm”. The rules also dictate that although this was only a single incident, there were eight victims and, therefore, eight recorded crimes,
We can only repeat that taking figures out of context can present a distorted view of the facts and create unnecessary alarm. Having said this, we do recognise that local media play an important role in promoting the safety of the local community, I want to continue to work positively with the media and support the valuable contributiom that they make in this area.
I would also reassure people in Walsall that their local police will continue to work closely with other partner agencies to serve our communities and protect them from harm.”
Superintendent Keith Fraser, Local Policing Walsall.
So, there we have it. Far from being ‘…called to Lichfield Road, Brownhills eight times between May 2009 and May 2010’ police attended one incident involving a CS cannister. While that incident is shocking and unpleasant, it hardly classifies Brownhills as being ‘Gun-plagued’. Indeed, it would seem that the incident took place in Lichfield Road Shire Oak, which is arguably not Brownhills at all, but Walsall Wood.The residents of Lichfield Road, Brownhills must be overjoyed.
I look forward to the Express & Star doing the decent thing and retracting this story, and issuing an apology to the people of Brownhills, who will surely now have to contend with one more piece of misinformation whenever they talk about their town.
One would hope that in future, better research would go into preparing such pieces and that full explanations of statistics be sought, particularly before using them to reinforce contentious, controversial statements. My concern as to how such lax research will combine with the new publicly open datasets remains.
We seem to be heading for interesting times.