“On a scale of one to five, which number represents thermonuclear war and which represents peace? The answer is simple; it depends on the value of one.”
This question is an oversimplified explanation of quantitative analysis. Every action has a numeric value and when those values are taken together, massaged with an algorithm, and plotted on a graph they tell you everything you need to know. Ask yourself this however, is that really true? Can quantitative analysis really tell you what you need to know in each discipline? Perhaps in finances, traffic accidents, and poker games the answer is yes, but when it comes to real world risk analysis, numbers are as useful as elven magic.
Before you click away in an angry huff, consider this: You’ve been asked to analyze the risk of recidivism of a convicted felon who is about to be released from prison. When you look through his criminal history you see he committed two armed robberies, six shoplifts, and four assaults over a three year period. He spent the last seven years in prison. Based on that information what is his risk of recidivism?
Odds are if you presented those facts to a criminal intelligence analyst or a police detective you would be told the risk is high. They would assign a numerical value to each crime, add them up, use some crazy algorithm and tell you this person is going to be a problem. If you went strictly by the numbers, then yes, this ex-con will more than likely offend again. If you step outside of the number parameters however, you encounter the reality of the assessment which is, the ex-con is a human being.
Saying the convict is human is not social commentary, it’s a fact that requires a different method for cataloging. Enter qualitative analysis. Based on the person’s history there is cause to believe he may re-offend, however there are several variables at play. For example, what were the socio-economic conditions of the subject prior to incarceration? Has the person found religion while in prison? What conditions will greet the subject upon his release? What factors that were present seven years ago will still be present upon release? All of these questions are extremely important when analyzing the risk of recidivism or any risk involving human beings. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this; what number value should be associated with anomalous human behavior?
The challenges facing an analyst converted to the world of qualitative analysis is knowing which questions to ask and where they rank in the final risk analysis. Each situation demands a new grouping of questions, however over time, the analyst will recognize core questions asked in each analysis. This is why risk analysis on people require more than one analyst and should go through a rigorous vetting process with other equally skilled analysts. After all, we are mapping human behavior and can’t exclude the possibility of personal bias.
It is time we train our law enforcement risk analysts and investigators to use a qualitative system. It will be a change, and challenges lie ahead, but as we encounter the growing need for threat intelligence, predictive analysis, and efficient forecasting we need to focus on the reason for the analysis; evaluating possibility. Numbers alone won’t do the trick.