Crime researcher unfit to research crime

A story getting a lot of attention today is that of Dr Jarrod Gilbert, a crime researcher who says the police have banned him from receiving basic crime data because he researched gangs.

UPDATE: Alan W responds well in the comment thread below:

They are not entitled to give him a hard time. Data is data. Once it is in public everyone can interpret it. If Gilbert misinterprets it, others can critique or correct him. That is how research works. The cops are totally out of line here.

Gilbert’s NZ Herald column: Dr Jarrod Gilbert: The police have deemed me unfit to undertake crime research because I know criminals

I’ve been deemed by the police to be unfit to conduct research – I’ve been banned from accessing basic and uncontroversial police data. As an academic who studies crime, this is rather crippling. It’s also a staggering abuse of power.

The police have deemed me unfit because of my “association with gangs”. This association won’t surprise many people: I did New Zealand’s largest ever study of gangs. It was long, exhausting and sometimes dangerous work, but it was worth it. The research culminated in an award-winning book, and academic publications all around the world.

If so this does seem a silly decision of the Police. Very silly.

The degree of control the police sought over research findings and publications was more than trifling. The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be “negative” then the police will seek to “improve its outcomes”. Both the intent and the language would have impressed George Orwell.

Researchers unprepared to yield and make changes face a clause stating the police “retain the sole right to veto any findings from release”. In other words, if an academic study said something the police didn’t like – or heaven forbid was in any way critical of the police – then the police could stop it being published.

These demands were supported by threats. The contracts state that police will “blacklist” the researchers and “any organisations connected to the project … from access to any further police resources” if they don’t abide by police wishes.

The implication is this: Do it as we want it, and release findings that we don’t object to, and you can get police data. If not, find another occupation. I have spoken to a number of researchers who have had terrible experiences with this process but live in fear of information being cut off. They don’t complain. They feel they can’t.

A crime researcher has to be able to be critical if he feels that’s what his research justifies, without being blocked from accessing data required for research.

Stuff reports that the police have said they will reconsider their decision.

Strategy deputy chief executive Mark Evans said all academics seeking police data sign a research agreement, which set out police expectations including that research was accurate, balanced and constructive.

The applications went through a “robust process” to ensure they had “benefits for police”, were of good standard, met privacy obligations and the police time required to process them was “feasible”, Evans said.

If the police thinks research won’t benefit them can block research data from being used? That sounds crappy – they shouldn’t be prejudging the value of research before it’s been done.

Police could prevent further access to police resources if a researcher breached the agreement, he said.

That’s fair enough – as long as the conditions are fair enough.

 

Farrar versus Gilbert and ‘dirty politics’

A spat between David Farrar (DPF) of Kiwiblog and Dr Jarrod Gilbert continues, with connections being made to ‘dirty politics. Gilbert posted on Wednesday:

Proof of David Farrar’s deception: my own experience of Dirty Politics

In the lead up to the election the Minister of Corrections Anne Tolley launched a gang policy. In order to justify the government’s approach she used gang figures that overstated the gang problem. Not by a little bit, but a lot. And I mean a lot. I couldn’t prove it at the time (I can now) but because they were so obviously nonsense I called her out and said I would eat a suitcase full of carrots if she was correct.

Carrots proved to be the least of my problems. My problem proved to be the dishonest Right Wing blogger David Farrar. I initially took Farrar’s challenge in good humour thinking it would be a healthy tussle to seek the truth. It wasn’t. As we know now, he and Cameron Slater are birds of a feather, but where Slater is dim-witted Farrar is marginally smarter and this makes him more insidious.

Farrar quickly leapt to the Minister’s Defence. He was able to gain the figures – presumably from the Minister’s office – and with them he attempted to ‘prove’ that I was wrong and discredit me. Sound familiar? It was my own little experience of Dirty Politics.

Farrar responded with an apology:

Jarrod was right

September 24th, 2014 at 1:55 pm by David Farrar

May have some carrots to eat.

I had an exchange with in August about the proportion of crimes caused by gang members, in reference to his disputing a statement by Anne Tolley.

I blogged:

Is Dr Gilbert Saying the Corrections Department is lying when it says 28% of the prison population are gang members? They supplied the data, and I see no reason why they would make it up.

I’ve just been told that the Corrections Department figures do include associates and family – something they did not make clear at the time.

So Dr Gilbert was quite right that the Minister was not comparing apples and applies, as one figure included associates, and one did not.

UPDATE: of course I apologise for doubting when he says Police and Corrections were using definitions of gang members. They were!

Graeme Edgeler took him to task

I’ve just been told that the Corrections Department figures do include associates and family – something they did not make clear at the time.

You were told that at the time. In fact, you quoted Dr Gilbert and responded as follows:

What the 28 percent prison number represents is gang members as well as gang associates in prison.

So it is a technical argument over definitions. I don’t care what you call them.

What’s changed? You agreed it was an argument of definitions then, but didn’t think it mattered.

David Fisher at NZ Herald:

Minister used wrong figures on gangs

Figures used by Police Minister Anne Tolley to justify a new law tackling gangs were wrong, police admitted last night.

The error was picked up by police shortly after Ms Tolley announced the policy in the run-up to the election but it has yet to be publicly corrected.

“Our intention is to shortly publish the relevant Cabinet Paper and clarification online,” a spokesman said last night.

Ms Tolley launched the policy as a “whole of government” approach to gangs which included drug dogs at domestic transit points – airports and ferries – and a new gang intelligence centre.

Launching the policy, she issued a press release saying 4000 gang members were responsible for a crime wave, including a quarter of murders last year.

She said that during the first three months of this year those 4000 gang members commited 34 per cent of serious drug offences, 36 per cent of kidnapping and abductions, 25 per cent of robbery offences and 26 per cent of grievous assault offences.

University of Canterbury sociologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert, who challenged the figures at the time of the policy launch, was yesterday citing proof the press release was wrong.

And Gilbert countered Farrar yesterday:

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the government isn’t playing dirty.

Ten minutes or so before I posted my blog yesterday proving the Police and Corrections Minister had used dodgy gang numbers, David Farrar wrote something akin to an apology on Kiwiblog for attacking me for exposing the truth. He was getting the jump on criticism coming his way.

Was this a coincidence? Of course not. He was tipped off by the Minister’s office following an inquiry by the the Herald’s ever diligent David Fisher just an hour or so before Farrar posted. Tolley’s press secretary is a man named Gillon Carruthers. Leaked emails used in Dirty Politics show that Carruthers has been providing material to Farrar’s offside Cameron Slater since 2011. Old habits obviously die hard.

And:

When I wrote in my blog that I used somebody else to send in the Official Information request because I was concerned the fact I was doing so would be leaked to Farrar or others (to whatever end), I thought I might be seen as paranoid. To be honest, I thought I might have been too. Unfortunately it appears not.

It is already quite clear that numerous people have been attacked by Slater, Farrar, often at the behest of government ministers or those working for them. This is not a small matter, it is about how we want our democracy to operate.

After the revelations of Dirty Politics, it might have been assumed these practices were halted. It seems that they haven’t been. Cameron Slater said to me last week on Twitter ‘wait until you see Dirtier Politics’. The worst, it would seem, is yet to come.

Slater has sounded unrepentant about playing dirty in between claiming to be a victim.

Farrar has pledged to clean up Kiwiblog and be more vigilant about disclosure of sources but he’s also been taken to task about this by Edgeler:

“if any content substantially comes from a parliamentary … source, I will state so when using it.” cf.

I haven’t seen a response to this from Farrar.

Some of this has been highlighted in a post at The Standard. Anthony Robins concludes:

Business as usual then (what a surprise). Expect dirty politics, and personal attacks on critics of the government, to escalate even further over the next three years.

A bit ironic considering the levels of personal attacks on critics at The Standard but fair enough holding Kiwiblog to account.

Dirty politics and personal attacks won’t stop overnight, they are ingrained practices across the political spectrum and across blogs.

Steve R also commented at Kiwiblog:

You need to do more to make up for how poorly you treated Dr Gilbert who I note you now refer to simply as “Jarrod”.

You misrepresented his position and allowed ignorant vitriol to be published whilst at the same time you suppressed counter arguments in support of his position. For instance, I wrote the post below and then watched and waited, and waited, and waited for it to be made public and funnily enough you only released it to the public well after activity on the thread had died off. If you’re going to manage your blog with such little integrity and courage then why don’t you openly label it for what it is – a gathering place for those of the right with feeble minds that cannot cope with a dissenting opinion.

My earlier post: “The one thing that Dr Gilbert has got wrong is that you deserve a reputation for honesty. You are being quite dishonest to suggest that Dr Gilbert has conceded the point, he absolutely has not. And it is utter nonsense to suggest he is wrong by simply standing by the initial apparently flawed data.

Furthermore, your refusal to accept there is a significant difference between gang members and associates betrays nothing but sheer ignorance. Having worked with gangs as a police officer (including time undercover in their midst) I can assure you that there are numerous people who are recorded as “gang associates” that have no association with “the gang” although they might have a completely non-gang related association with an individual “gang member”.

For instance, consider the co-worker who has his name taken when he gets pulled over in the company of a gang member; the person whose cousin or brother in law is a gang member (such people include policemen, lawyers and even a Judge); the tradesman who does work for a gang member etc etc. All can be recorded as “gang associates” and in the event that they commit an offence it is recorded as having been committed by a “gang associate” notwithstanding the fact there is no “gang” connection to the offence. Thus, the definitions used do matter because if the “gang problem” is wildly overstated because of a flawed nexus between offences and “gangs” then policy decisions and resource allocations are potentially misguided.”

Holding prominent political blogs and bloggers to account has become an important aspect of New Zealand politics.

It will be interesting to see how Farrar and Kiwiblog responds to what will no doubt be ongoing pressure to clean up.