Sunday, 31 January 2010

Adopt a Cop

Evening all. Police Constable George Dixon here to report more rum doings at Dock Green. The Home Office has given the Christian Police Association(CPA) £10,000 to fight crime with the power of prayer.

The CoAct Adopt A Cop project will fund Christians and police working together in the community.

A CPA co-ordinator at each police station tells churches what needs praying about and CoAct have also issued a list of general guidelines that include praying for:
  • Neighbourhood police officers
  • Success in preventing and detecting crime
  • Catching offenders
  • Sick and injured officers
  • Officers to resist corruption and to be able to relax when they're off duty
  • Local streets or housing estates plagued by crime
  • A reduction in crime
A spokesman for the CPA said: 'There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that prayer might help reduce crime and community tension'.

Circumstantial evidence is not far removed from magical thinking aka post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning, making a direct link between two unconnected events. For example, I wore my purple pants to a job interview and got the job therefore the purple pants helped me get the job and are henceforth lucky pants. Or, the police arrive at a crime scene to find a dead body with a woman kneeling by it holding a bloody knife and arrest her for murder on no other evidence. This is not the kind of policing we at Dock Green were trained to carry out. As an experienced bobby with many years on the beat, I certainly would not stand up before the beak with such 'evidence'.

The executive director of the CPA, Don Axcell, offers up his 'evidence': 'In one particular area, an officer was investigating an incident but he had not been able to apprehend a suspect. He encouraged a church to pray and within days a suspect had been arrested and charged. In another area, an officer encouraged churches to pray about domestic burglary and over the year it came down by 30 per cent.'

He does add ' We do not discount good police work, which is why we call it circumstantial evidence' but his meaning of 'circumstantial' appears different from everyone else's.

So which is it, prayer or good old fashioned coppering? The CPA are in no doubt. The CoAct website says: 'Pray for your police. Prayer is the key, powerful and changes things. It is the slender nerve which moves the hand of God and we are asking him to intervene in our community'. According to them, 'prayer undergirds action and forms part of an holistic Christian response to crime reduction'.

Ah, holistic policing. So much better than the regular sort. Undergirding is what a jock strap or Wonder Bra does.

Are the CPA aware that there is strong evidence (none of it circumstantial) that praying for sick people does not help them and, in fact, can make them worse and impair their recovery? If a church prays for a particular officer to catch a villain and he fails, whose fault is it? Did they not pray hard enough or was it part of His Mysterious Plan that the perp walked?

Why would God give special help only to those boys (and girls) in blue who were prayed for? Does He not care about the others? What happens at stations where there is no CPA member to set up the Prayer Force?

There has been no attempt to test this 'evidence'. No control group who are not prayed for or who do not know whether they're being prayed for or not. For good measure, they should perhaps also have a group of bobbies who have been cursed to see if they do significantly worse. Attributing a 30% fall in domestic burglaries to the power of prayer fails to take into account any other factor that might have caused the drop.

Encouraging local communities to support the police is no bad thing. But quite apart from the unscientific thinking going on here, there are other religious police groups who have not, so far, received any money. There are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and even Pagan Police Associations. Perhaps they have no 'evidence' that their prayers reduce crime figures. Perhaps the Home Office has confused the Chief Constable with the Man in the Sky. Or perhaps God is in fact a supernatural coppers' nark.

Giving money just to the CPA is likely to create division between different sections of the Force. There seems to have been little or no thought about how this will make non-Christian officers at a police station feel when their colleagues are singled out for special treatment. Officers who have no belief at all are expected to work alongside those who think that supernatural power is helping them.

One officer said: 'It's like asking the Fairy Godmother to bring in all the criminals on the run'. The fact that he or she didn't want to be named does not bode well for this divisive and ill-conceived project. A project, let's not forget, which is funded by the tax payer.


  1. £10,000 doesn't seem like very much at all if it makes the Christians just go away.

    Can you point me to the evidence that prayer can "can make [patients] worse and impair their recovery"? Is this due to the nocebo effect?

  2. Daniel - just a few quick ones:

    It's possibly because, if you know someone is praying for you, then you think you really must be on your last legs.