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The sniper scopes in on a young grinning child holding up a gold Rolex. Its a long shot. To his right is the “institutionalist” and to his left is the “realist” both brandishing armor and holding a plethora of weapons. Their weapons are visible yet ineffective at this distance. The sniper is too far away way, way too accurate; deadly accurate. Yet at least one will survive as the effect of a long distance bullet is obvious, sudden and frightening. 

The dark figure in crime data is the coveted elusive holy grail of crime data. This dark figure or formula determines the number of people that get away with a crime. If found this figure alone has the ability to change society as we know it today. It has the ability to cause large scale rebellion that makes the Civil War look primitive. Little has changed in the 1000 years since the first All Thing and clearly change is needed. Data may be the brush to paint this figure. Yet this is not easy as it may seem. 

Our collective excuses are numerous. Claiming the existence of no perfect measure and assuming that everyone in a high crime area is guilty could be looked at as excuses. Faulty Racial profiling and cleared cases are convincing testimony to a failing system. If you want more the flawed victim dependent testimony leaves some people feeling lucky that they are not under the skirt of the dark figure. The large ominous budgets supported solely by known reported crimes mostly discovered and reported by insiders or witnesses is just the fringe of the jungle.

Real glimpses are revealed through the shadows of trauma, stress and horror by victim reports. Another glimpse is potentially through controversial reports like Dohahue and Levitt relating abortion numbers to crime rates. More over as the population clock ticks forward the dark figure grows in power causing a widening separation of crime and justice. 

2012 Federal crime data was just released; its 2015. This data assembled at an enormous cost with questionable accuracy creates a confusing fog over the whole data jungle. Leaving heroic family members to shoulder the burden of protection on the young.  The mass of threats are growing with no foreseen improvement. What are we paying for when the odds of survival are better in a real jungle than in a high crime area.

Just getting to the data with the right level of detail is difficult. The Law steps on itself prohibiting access requiring scrutiny in order to show any kind of detail. For example with data sets that contain living people there are ethical considerations. Personal data cannot be geolocated in masse without permission of the living people. This also means it is illegal to track a person showing a geocode. Regardless blatant disregard for personal rights is common and online sell this data to anyone for a dollar. In contrast data on criminal is owned by the criminal. Data on the crime in is owned by the collecting agency. Leaving an open debate for improvement in these laws. The public pays for the criminal to be incarcerated so there is big potential for a lot of different options here too. There are so many variables and typically laws are broken first then adjusted.  A gross example of this is some of the recent crime map applications and cyber defense. And not to mention recent applications that track police locations. 

Ideally justice is sold to the public as ethical and accurate. In reality there is limited useable public data at any level of detail to be used with other data sets. For what ever reason this is it shows a great potential for improvement. The use of hard accurate timely data is used in other areas of government to improve. For example Traffic accident data is used to improve intersections, traffic flow, motorist and pedestrian safety. 

Then maybe there has to be a crisis to change the way crime and criminal data is mixed and evaluated. One thing for sure there is real human value waiting to be revealed that can be used to improve systems and public perspectives. The question becomes if improvement can happen naturally in other parts of government there is hope for the future. Clearly the current justice environment keeps the wheels of commerce turning. And how effective is it really only the dark figure knows. It is hard to tell when we are all in the shadow of the dark figure. 

So in conclusion, calling all super heroes this dark figure is growing bigger by the day. For sure our public systems of justice have some tough questions ahead and cannot keep up a level l of quality with the current demand. The dark figure is elusive yet real and barely defined. Tough questions that have to be answered quickly and effectively to be successful. The juggling act eventually comes to a an end leaving all of us to carry burden of failed systems.

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Comment by James Aldrich on January 29, 2015 at 8:38am

Great article bringing attention to one of the greatest data analysis problems facing our "free" society - the actual truth underlying our crime statistics. 

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