Tuesday, 23 February 2010

God Squad

Evening all. Constable George Dixon with you again.

Last month I told you about the Home Office giving the Christian Police Association £10,000 to fight crime with the power of prayer.

This month, there's more on prayer and policework. Inspector Roger Bartlett of Devon and Cornwall police has said that he is 'convinced' faith has a positive effect on policing. And he has proof. Let's take a look at that while I have my tea break.

Bartlett said he has seen "many direct answers to prayer in the workplace" from its positive impact on potentially violent incidents to reducing road deaths.

"I have seen a number of specific answers to (...) prayers – like the unprecedented Halloween night in the town when the police did not have to attend a single incident of disorder, or the prolific serial dwelling burglar who, after a significant series of offences, was apprehended in very unusual circumstances within three days of that group praying that he would trip up and be caught."

I'm just a humble bobby on the beat but even I know that just because one thing happens and then another thing, there is no necessary link between them. Only this morning, Mrs Dixon gave me a peck on the cheek as I was leaving the house and and said she hoped I had a good day on the beat (bless her). Later on, I was able to direct a woman who'd lost her way to the Post Office. Now, I could say that these two events were connected, cause and effect. Mrs Dixon's good wishes helped me do my job. But the boys at the station would give me a very queer look if I did. And quite right too.

It's not unknown for police to catch criminals and three days is quite a long time. Is there some sort of statute of limitations for prayers? What if the burglar had been caught after two weeks?

Inspector Bartlett has more of this 'evidence': "In 2007, I asked the [prayer] group to pray for the local detection rate, particularly in the Barnstaple sector, which was at about 26 per cent of total crime and one of the poorest in the force area and meant that justice, in too many cases, was not being done.

"Every quarter since that time, there has been an increase in that figure, despite reductions in the overall crime rate to the point that Barnstaple currently has a detection rate of just over 40 per cent of total crime, which is one of the highest in the country".

My son in law, Detective Andy Crawford, is a bright lad. He tells me there is a thing called reversion to norm. It's like having a lucky streak that runs out. Sooner or later, a run of wins becomes a run of loses or the other way round. He says that low detection rates could get better because of this too. Who knows? The thing is, there's no need to jump to the conclusion that prayer did it when there could be a perfectly ordinary, non-supernatural explanation. Andy says that's called Occam's Razor - go for the simplest explanation as it's most likely to be the right one.

It also occurred to me that if the overall crime rate is falling then the police are likely to clear up a bigger percentage of crimes anyway as there are fewer to solve. If there are 100 crimes and they solve 10, that's a 10% success rate. If there are 50 crimes and they still solve ten, that's a 20% success rate. An increase of 100%! But Inspector Bartlett is having none of that, even though he does give a nod to the boys in blue.

"Of course, that is down to some fantastic local policing, but the prayers I hear from Christians are for officers to be good at their job and implement practices that will lead to offenders being brought to account and victims seeing justice done. Clearly, many who do not have the faith I have would say that this is just coincidence, but the increase in that figure is so marked that it is indeed 'some coincidence'."

They might say it was just coincidence or they might say there were perfectly ordinary explanations. But not for Bartlett: "From my experience, the more I pray, the more 'coincidences' I seem to see."

The other day Mrs Dixon mentioned that our neighbourhood was being over-run with dogs lately. She doesn't like dogs. I decided to do what the boffins in forensics call an experiment. Every day for a whole week, I looked out for dogs while on the beat around Dock Green. And do you know, I spotted twenty three of them. The week before, I didn't see any. Or at least I don't remember seeing any. But then, I wasn't looking for them. It seems to me that the more you look for something, the more you see it and the more significant it becomes. Especially if you've decided in advance what your conclusion will be. I should say that there was a local dog show on the Green on Saturday. I also saw twenty seven cats, but I ignored them.

Inspector Bartlett doesn't stop there. He goes on that "probably the most significant answer to prayer" he experienced related to a fall in the number of serious road accidents in North Devon. He explained: "I presented to the [prayer] group a significant rise in northern Devon of the number of casualties killed or seriously injured on the roads and asked them to pray for this number to come down."

After the request, incidents fell from 97 in 2007-8 to 32 in 2008-9. "Not only was this a 67 per cent reduction on the previous year, and a far greater fall than any other area of the force, it was also more than 50 per cent lower than the next lowest annual figure locally (66). On this occasion, I am not sure we can make the same link between this reduction and 'good police work' as the figure is well beyond the control of even the best traffic officers that I know."

He's saying that the reduction in RTAs could not possibly have been down to the police, or any other earthly factor. It has to be the power of prayer. That's quite a claim. Detective Andy says he'd like to see a list of all the crimes and accidents logged in the area, a list of the ones prayed for and those that weren't, and the clear-up rates for both. And a list of crimes, accidents and arrests in another area where no one was praying, over a couple of years, to see if they had ups and downs too. Remarkable claims require remarkable evidence, he says.

On the Devon and Cornwall Christian Police website, Bartlett says that 'As a Police officer I am absolutely convinced, that the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is overwhelming'. He can believe what he likes but 'as a police officer' evidence has a bit of a different meaning to the way he's using it. It does to me, anyway.

This doesn't seem to me like a copper encouraging good community relations. It seems like one bobby who needs reminding that police work is about solid, testable evidence that will stand up in court. There doesn't seem much point in us wearing out our shoe leather and spending all that money on new-fangled things like DNA testing when a quick prayer can do the job. But what do I know? Perhaps Andy can explain it to me.

Tea break's over. Back to the beat.


  1. Brilliant!
    Perhaps you and Mrs Dixon should have a friendly word with the guvnor and set him straight...

  2. Hello, hello, hello, what's hall this then? You do know that himpersonating hay Police Office is han hoffence? At least that's what the voices in my head tell me. Or was that the voice of god on my walkie talkie?

    Now move along there, there's nothing to see.