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WMP Chief Officer talks science in pub lecture series

18/05/2017

Pub-goers across Birmingham and beyond have been discussing Darwin over darts and playing dominoes while talking Hawkins!

Bars the length and breadth of Britain – plus many more on the Continent, Australia, Brazil and Japan – have been hosting talks designed to bring science to the masses.

The Pint of Science series (May 15-17) sees experts delivery bite-size lectures in boozers on everything from the solar system and the chances of a meteorite strike to artificial intelligence and robots.

And West Midlands Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Alex Murray pulled up a bar stool at The Woodman in New Canal Street, Birmingham, on Tuesday (16 May) during a night off to discuss the force’s experimentation with Behavioural Science to make communities safer.

The force is working with a team of psychologists and academics at the Behavioural Insights Team on trials aimed at ‘nudging’ members of the public to behave in ways designed to cut crime, support recruitment drives and improve efficiency.

One has seen a former criminal pen inspirational words on a police cell block in a bid to encourage offenders to change their ways. 

Other behavioural science trials run by West Midlands Police are aimed at reducing the number of false phone robbery reports, cutting speeding and encouraging witnesses to attend court.

ACC Murray said: “It’s all about looking at how can we experiment in policing to determine what’s effective, what can change people’s behaviour and what can cut crime and reassure our communities. By adopting a more rigorous way of understanding what works – in this case randomised control trials – we can get into real detail about whether any effect we see is down to the tactic being tested.

“Some of our behavioural science trials have been very encouraging – but if they don’t yield benefits we move on and try something else. 

“We want to use taxpayers’ money in a way that maximises the reduction of crime so we need to understand what really works – and these trials have not cost West Midlands Police a penny as the work has been funded through a charitable grant. 

“Just by ‘nudging’ people with a few extra text messages we saw increases in witnesses attending court – great for victims, justice and the public.

“The Pint of Science ticketed event is a great way of reaching out to people who about science – rather than sitting in a classroom. I really enjoyed the night and got lots of questions and positive feedback.”

One trial has seen speeders receive a newly-designed fine letter with a fresh focus on the potentially devastating consequences of breaking the limit. 

The Notices of Intended Prosecution feature an image of a crash scene flower tribute, statistics highlighting the number of child deaths due to speeding, and the headline “no driver means to kill… they were just going too fast”.

Results revealed an increase in the number of offenders paying the fine (up 13.6 per cent) – and a 41 per cent reduction in the likelihood of someone being taken to court for failing to respond – while fines issued with the additional literature were also paid more swiftly. 

Emerging evidence shows the reoffending rate was lower too – all by just changing the information a driver received.