One of the arguments I’ve heard against the use of science in policing is that it’s a craft that requires practitioner expertise and in-the-field decision-making because, unlike other domains, crime is different, crime is difficult.
Really? Let’s talk about cancer.
Most people think they have a pretty good understanding of what cancer is: a serious disease that could kill you. By the way, so is crime.
Cancer is also not one disease. It’s multiple forms of disease. This is why doctors make distinctions between conditions like leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma, both considered ‘blood cancers’, but being very different conditions, with different origins, different disease processes, different prognoses, and so on. Hmmm … kinda sounds like crime doesn’t it? Not one condition but many distinct and some times overlapping processes.
The root cause of cancers are breakdowns in cell division, which is why there is not one type of tumor cell. But that causes this to happen? What causes it not to happen? How can some cancers be malignant and others not? What causes some to grow like wildfire and others not? And are some spontaneously cured? Here's some of the little bit we know:
· Genetic factors are clearly linked to one’s propensity to develop certain types of cancers (mutations in the BRCA1 and 2 genes being a well known example)
· Genetic factors linked to individual immune systems play a role in how one’s body responds
· Environmental factors can clearly serve as triggers (exposure to carcinogens)
· Dietary and lifestyle factors are also factors (cigarette smoke, anyone?).
· Age factors can also play a role.
Then there’s the fact that treatments vary and not everyone responds well to all treatments. This is why doctors explain possible results in terms of individual odds and percentages. Knowledge is always hemmed in by the possibility that just because this is what we know works in many cases, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. And that is also why criminologists never give you a 100% guarantee. We can’t. Like your body, we cannot predict how an organism, process, person, body will respond to treatment, control for all other factors that may make the intervention more or less successful or even make sure you follow the treatment plan (which many of you do not).
Speaking of which: what if we’ve proposed an intervention that may reduce B and Es in a local community, but you don’t deliver the treatment in the way that has been prescribed? A senior officer decides he knows better and says you don’t really need the full dose and he needs those resources somewhere else? Local Sergeants are over-taxed and they don’t have the time to make sure their people are following through on the program? I have one million ways in which things can go wrong, so how can we possibly guarantee success if the clinician and/or the patient doesn’t even cooperate?
Now imagine this: a close family member has a stage 3 cancer. But not to worry, the doctor has seen this many times in her 27 years of clinical experience and will be treating it based on that experience. When you ask about a new cutting edge treatment you’ve heard about, she pooh poohs your questions and reasserts her expertise and authority by explaining that’s just stuff from text books and not how things operate in the real world, where cancer is ‘difficult’. In her experience, this type of cancer is easily treated by a drug called Laetrile in combination with a ‘metabolic conversion diet’ involving plant based and high fat foods.
I’ll say this bluntly: anyone who accepted this nonsense at face value is a fool. So, why would anyone accept similar arguments when it comes to treating crime?
And please don't tell me it's because crime is 'hard.' Cancer therapies often take decades of failures in the lab, failures in first in human trials and failures in larger clinical studies before progress is made. Decades. Maybe somebody should tell them to stop because it's 'hard'?