Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (again)

The news was full of this, yesterday: “only 11% of the police are visibly available to the public” at any time.  It’s a quote from the press release announcing the new “Valuing the Police” report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.  The inference is clear: that the other 89% must be wasting their time on bureaucracy.

I know nothing about policing or ratios of back-office to “feet on the street” policing.  However, I hate to see misleading statements and figures given without context.  Consider this.  If we expect the police to provide a 24 hour, 365 day per year service, then there are 3 (8 hour shifts) x 365 = 1,095 shifts to be covered in a year to provide a single officer on the street at any one time.

If we assume four weeks annual leave plus 8 public holidays, then a single officer can only work 48 (weeks) x 5 days = 240, less 8 = 232 shifts per year.

Therefore, assuming for ease a constant level of policing, the best we should expect is that (232 / 1095 =) 21% of police are on duty at any time.  And that does not allow for sick leave, extra leave entitlement, training or any weird “Spanish practices” the police may have.

As I said, I know nothing about policing but “just over half of all available police” (11% out of 21%) is a very different tone of conversation from “only 11%”.

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