Saturday, August 01, 2015

...And if they did fail to investigate, they were insane

There's an old joke amongst lawyers about the "perfect defense argument". It's a series of "in the alternative" responses that seeks to derail the plaintiff's case (usually styled as something simple like "your client broke my vase") at every turn. "You don't have a vase. If you have a vase, my client has never seen it. If he saw it, he never touched it. If he touched it, it did not fall...." and so on. The last line in the litany is that if, after all that, the man can indisputably have been shown to have broken the vase ... well, "he was insane."

It's a joke because, of course, such a strategy is not "perfect", it reeks of desperation and wouldn't be received well by any jury at all. It also smacks of how some folks are responding to Yesh Din statistics showing that a mere 7.4%  of cases of Jewish civilians committing crimes against Palestinians are cleared (which came up in the discussion over my post on the recent "price tag" murder of a Palestinian child). Here is an edited version of the fusillade of responses I've gotten to that figure on Twitter:

  • Where did that figure comes from? [Answer: Yesh Din]
  • How was it calculated? [Out of 996 complaints with investigation files opened and processed, only 7.4% resulted in any charges being filed.]
  • "Charges filed"? Why that metric? [That's basically what's known as the "clearance rate": the ratio of complaints made to arrests and charges made.]
  • Who's to say 7.4% is low? Maybe in the US it's even lower. There are plenty of cases where a crime report is filed and nobody is caught. [True, but 7.4% is still really low. The American clearance rates, by comparison, are 47% for violent crimes and 18% for property crimes] 
  • What happens if charges are dropped? Maybe the police are investigating the claims but the prosecutors are electing not to file?  [A case where charges are filed and later dropped still counts as "cleared". Since it's a measure of police efficacy, not prosecutorial talent, it stops measuring once the case is out of the police's hands.]
  • It includes dropped charges? Then those numbers are squishy; the police could goose the numbers just by arrested and charging random strangers! [There's no evidence that happens over a large scale. This is a very widely used metric of police efficiency.]
  • Bah! Your numbers are useless if they don't include convictions [Fine. The percentage of claims which result in a conviction is 3.3% (33/996). The conviction rate (how many charged cases lead to at least one conviction) is 58%]
  • Who's to say 3.3% is low? Maybe in the US it's even lower! [This again? Highly unlikely. Even if we assumed every crime was a property crime, the conviction rate would have to be an appalling 18% for the ratio of complaints to convictions to catch up.]
  • Maybe the US conviction rate is that low? [It's not. It's 66%.]
  • Well, maybe the police aren't charging people because it turns out the complaints are unfounded? [Overwhelmingly, the files are closed because the investigation fails -- no suspect or insufficient evidence to bring a case -- not because the claim is deemed unfounded.]
  • Maybe they're not finding enough evidence because no crime occurred! [Perhaps, sometimes. And perhaps sometimes the police gave it their all and just couldn't catch the perpetrator. That's why we use aggregate statistics and used the U.S. as a baseline comparison. Neither explanation is likely to account for 93% of cases.]
  • Bah again! I bet almost all claims of "price tag" attacks are lies. Ever heard of Pallywood? [I have. Again, if you think it accounts for 93% of cases, you're delusional.]
  • Also, these statistics come from Yesh Din, and they're one of those EU-funded Israeli groups that can't be trusted. [Then by all means provide contrary data from a source you like better. I'm happy to look at it.]
  • [Needless to say, actually providing contrary data, or countervailing evidence of any sort, has been met with utter silence].
You'll note that all of these responses are attempts to pot-shot at the data. They don't provide any positive evidence -- empirical or otherwise -- demonstrating that Israel does a good job investigating "price tag" attacks on a systematic level. This is the behavior of people who are guarding a belief that they desperately want to be true, and will cling to it through hell or high water. I don't want to believe that Israel systematically fails to investigate price tag attacks. I prefer it when Israel does a good job, and I'm unhappy when it does a bad job. But the fact of the matter is that they've been a colossal failure in this arena; and it's not an unimportant arena.

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