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Measuring Crime
There are 3 main methods of collecting
• Official Statistics
• Victim Surveys
• Self-Report Studies
Official Crime Statistics
• Statistics on crime are published
annually by the Home Office.
• They are compiled from information
provided by the local police forces.
• The police record all crimes known to
them and those which have been detected
or ‘cleared by arrest’.
Usefulness of crime statistics
• They have been collected since 1857 so
provide us with an historical overview of
changing trends over time.
• They give an accurate view of the way
that the criminal justice system processes
offenders through arrests, trials,
punishments etc.
They consistently show that some groups
are more involved in crime than others.
The working-class
The young
Some ethnic minority groups
• Make use of the statistics as social facts
about the extent of social problems and
• Some have proceeded to explain why
such groups are criminal: Merton, Cohen
• Sociologists must do more than describe
social facts.
• They must take care over their use and
• Need to ask: who collects the statistics,
how do people become criminals?
Should we believe the official
crime statistics?
• Willis argues the crime statistics may be
imperfect as instruments from which to
draw definite conclusions about the state
of society.
Dark Figure of Crime
• Criminal acts which are not reported.
• They are known to exist as a result of
admissions from both observers and
People fail to report crimes
because:• Regard them as too trivial (eg a scratch
on a car)
• Do not believe the police can do anything
(eg wallet stolen in a busy market place)
• Regard it as a private matter (theft by
• The feel humiliated (eg rape)
Police Activities and the Crime
• Police use their discretion in deciding
whether an act is worth defining and
recording as criminal.
• May not want to get involved (domestic
• May regard it as too trivial (riding a bike
on the pavement)
• Different police forces record and enforce
laws differently, the Manchester Police
Force are not as lax on prostitution as the
Metropolitan Police Force.
• There may be a change in the police
interpretation of the law (the police
started to use the law on riot during the
1984/85 miners’ strike).
The Role of the Police – S Box
• Full law enforcement does not exist
• The police cannot be everywhere all of
the time
• Full law enforcement is impossible and
undesirable. Upper and middle classes
can ‘claim’ more privacy
• There is a limitation of police resources
and time
• Attitudes of magistracy vary, police are
not going to pursue and enforce laws
which the magistracy treat in a light
• Stereotypes tell the police where to look
and who to look for
Self-Report Studies
• These are surveys in which a selected
cross-section of the population are asked
what offences they have committed.
Usefulness of Self-Report Studies
• Reveal a lot about offenders who are not
caught or processed by the police.
• It is possible to find out about the ages,
gender and social class of ‘hidden
• It is a useful way to find out about
victimless crimes.
Weaknesses of Self-Report Studies
• Problem with validity – respondents may
lie or exaggerate.
• Problem with representativeness – tend
to be carried out on young people rather
than professional criminals or drug
• Problem of relevance – because of
problem with representativeness the
majority of the crimes uncovered tend to
be trivial
Victim Surveys
• In Victim Surveys a sample of the
population are asked which offences have
been committed against them over a
certain period of time.
• The best known Victimization study is
the British Crime Survey which has been
carried out every year since 1982.
Usefulness of Victim Surveys
• They give an excellent picture of the
extent and patterns of victimization.
Weaknesses of Victim Surveys
• Based on victims’ memories and
recollections are often faulty or biased.
• The categorization of the crimes that
have been committed against them is left
to the person filling in the questionnaire –
leads to inaccuracy.
• Victim surveys omit a range of crimes
such as fraud and corporate crime where
victims are unaware of or unable to
report the crime.
• People appear to underreport sexual
• Victim surveys are dependent upon
people being aware that they are victims.
• Care needs to be taken because the media
highlight certain ‘crimes’ and this can
heighten sensitivity towards certain
forms of behaviour.
• This is known as sensitizing the public
towards certain types of ‘crimes’.
Jock Young – 3 main problems
• 20% - 25% refuse to cooperate – distorts
the figures.
• Victims may be more likely to conceal
certain types of crime because of
embarrassment or a misplaced sense of
• Public perceptions might affect the
willingness of the public to regard acts as
criminal eg may become less tolerant of