Crime statistics – Crime and Deviance

Lesson objectiveTo explore the usefulness of crime statistics
Lesson outcomes• Assess how recording crime can be improved
• Evaluate their usefulness
• Explain where crime statistics come from

Where do crime statistics come from?

  • Police Recorded Crimes (PRC) – These are statistics from the police on crimes that have been reported and recorded to them.
  • Victim surveys. These are surveys of people who have been victims of crime. Currently, the largest is the Crime Survey For England and Wales (CSEW). Take a look at the two linksHERE andHERE.
  • Self-report studies – These are anonymous questionnaires which request people to admit to crimes, not on record.
  • Court and Prison Records – These often hold records on characteristics of some offenders.

The social construction of crime statistics

As discussed throughout, a current theme of criminal perspectives is that crime is socially constructed, so too must the statistics be.

  • Reliability – There are many inconsistencies with the way some crimes are classified and it is up to police as to which category it falls into. One crime might be placed into two different categories by two officers.
  • Validity – Because people fill in the forms, they can be wrong or adjusted. E.g. statistics don’t take into account dark crimes e.g. domestic violence as often this goes unreported.

Unreported crimes.

The CESW suggests around 60% of crimes are never reported to the police because:

  • The crime was too trivial,
  • It should be private,
  • Took too long to report,
  • Fear,
  • Embarrassment,
  • Dislike or don’t trust the police.

Reported, but unrecorded crimes.

The police do not always record crimes because:

  • The incidence was too trivial,
  • It has already been satisfactorily resolved e.g. person doesn’t want to press charges.
  • The person complaining might be too unreliable.
  • They might consider the offence as not breaching the law.

Changes in reporting, counting and recording crime.

  • The media can focus on one crime, which is then raised as a profile and reported more.
  • Police can change where they target and their policies.
  • Changing norms and values of society. E.g. weed may be reported, but nothing was done as it has become more socially acceptable.
  • With a high focus on community policing, there may be an increase in statistics but doesn’t mean more crimes are taking place.
  • More technology means a higher rate of detection, meaning crimes rates go up, but again, doesn’t mean more crimes are being committed.
  • More consumer policies mean that the police have to be contacted e.g. in order to claim for an accident (car insurance) the police must give you a crime number, meaning crimes rates go up, but again, doesn’t mean more crimes are being committed.

Attempts to overcome the limitations of official statics.

Victims survey:

  • People may exaggerate or lie,
  • Trace decay theory and other concepts identify how victims can get their testimonies wrong. An excellent stretch and challenge resources ishere).
  • People don’t always realise they have been a victim,
  • Two people might consent to a crime meaning the crime doesn’t exist. E.g. Fight Club.

Self-Report studies:

  • Valid – offenders might exaggerate to impress the researcher or as part of a prank,
  • Trace decay theories.

How do sociologists use crime statistics?

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