Deadly Words and Figures

WE can be remembered more for the things we say than what we do; and more for how we said it than what we meant. Two related events this week bear timely testimony to both these realities, each leading to questions begging for uncertain answers.

Question 1: Can a Police Force influence a nation’s murder rate?

This serious question was being asked in all sincerity, against the background of the declaration by the Police Commissioner that he intends to keep the 2018 homicide rate at ‘under 25’.

It’s quite in order for the commissioner to have high hopes and set laudable goals – and it would be so very well if some of our most ambitious achievements are met, even halfway.

But to what extent can we rest assured of the possibility that our police force has found a way and/or is able to directly influence how many people get killed in any one year.

This is indeed a hard sell.

Do the Maths: The police recorded 60 homicides in 2017 and there were 18 for 2018 when the Top Cop was quoted as having set the goal of reducing the murder rate this year to ‘under 25’. If 24 is the most ‘under 25’, then the commissioner is saying there’ll only be six homicides between now and December 31 – all of four-and-a-half months or 18 weeks.

The arithmetic of death is as appalling as the statistical comparisons of homicide rates under different governments. That’s why we will not arrive at any further mathematical deductions about percentage comparison of death rates under different police commissioners.

The detection rate of 52% registered last year is a more comfortable statistic, even though it means we’re falling short in this department by 48% — nearly half.

Commissioner Moncherry has been much in the news this week, denying rumours he was axed, but confirming he is thinking of ‘early retirement’ at an already set date.

But if the commissioner has also been thinking of his legacy, he should henceforth carefully choose his words, especially when predicting homicide rates, lest he be remembered too much for not meeting his target, or hanging his hat where his hand(s) couldn’t reach.

That said, here’s also honestly hoping the commissioner and his force do have a workable formula to so measurably reduce the homicide rate this year as to not only make the nation proud, but to also restore the level of confidence necessary for members of the public to give the police the cooperation it so richly requires if it is to really serve and protect us.

At the same time, we’d also like to advise careful selection of words when referring to persons who lose their lives, for whatever reasons and in whatever circumstances. Every dead person leaves behind a mourning family that’s forced to continue mourning long after others have forgotten the dead.

Question 2: Can a doctor always predict a patient will die? That’s the question asked by many after a local doctor expressed a professional medical opinion after the death of a dialysis patient.

In this regard too, it’s more than a bit difficult to hear a doctor saying or suggesting that someone ‘would have died anyway’, or a politician saying ‘This is not the first person to die in dialysis.’

Clearly, neither the doctor, nor the politician, would have intended to hurt the sensitivities of the dead man’s family. But we still live in a society where people still strongly believe that ‘Only God’ can tell when someone will die; and that nobody deserves to die.

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