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Measuring Crime There are 3 main methods of collecting information: • 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 • Males • Some ethnic minority groups Positivists • Make use of the statistics as social facts about the extent of social problems and disorder. • Some have proceeded to explain why such groups are criminal: Merton, Cohen Phenomenologists • Sociologists must do more than describe social facts. • They must take care over their use and interpretation. • 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 victims. 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 family) • The feel humiliated (eg rape) Police Activities and the Crime Statistics • Police use their discretion in deciding whether an act is worth defining and recording as criminal. • May not want to get involved (domestic dispute) • 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 manner • 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 offenders’. • 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 traffickers. • 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 offences. • 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 guilt. • Public perceptions might affect the willingness of the public to regard acts as criminal eg may become less tolerant of something.