Describe and Discuss the methods that are used in the UK for measuring crime

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One way that is used for measuring crime is official statistics which involves comparing statistics from government bodies and agencies, such as the police, courts and prisons. Official statistics come from the annual report from the Office of National Statistics. Statistics of crime that have been reported in recent official reports are examples like 7.3 million reports of crime against household and residents for year ending March 2014. It has also been found that crime has fallen by 14% in England and Wales between 1981 and 2014. 

One strength of this method of measuring crime is that it is based on police, courts and prison ‘facts’ that are supposed to be a reliable source as they are from a trusted government agency.  This method is also more objective than other methods because it doesn’t rely on potentially inaccurate personal measures, for example self-reports, which could be biased against the criminals themselves as it is merely their point of view that they are giving.

On the other hand, one limitation of official statistics is that the evidence from the police is underestimated as the crime has to be reported in order for the crime to be accounted for, with Hollin suggesting that only 25% of crime is actually reported. Evidence from the courts is also underestimated as the defendant can’t be charged for the crime if there isn’t enough evidence against them and criminals are sometimes only convicted one of the several crimes that they commit. The figures that are also collected from the official statistics can be found to be distorted because there are different reporting policies within different police forces and the Government may tweak results in order to suit their election campaign. Farrington and Dowd’s study demonstrates how police recording procedures can distort official statistics. Police in Nottinghamshire were more likely to record thefts of less than £10 compared to that of Staffordshire and Leicestershire who considered crimes below this value were regarded as minor and were not recorded. Thus the crime rate (the number of crimes per unit of population per year) in Nottingham was higher than the other 2 counties as the police recorded the crime differently in Nottinghamshire.

Another method that can be used for measuring crime is Victim Surveys which actually gather a first-hand account from the victims themselves about any crime they have experienced. The British Crime Survey (BCS) is an example of a victim survey which measures the amount of crime in England and Wales by asking 50000 people about any incidents of crime that they have experienced in the past year and whether they reported it to the police. This survey is handed out to the public every two years and requests their information to be relevant to the previous year. There was a peak of 19 million crimes in 1995 although levels of crime have decreased and stabilised by 2005, at just over 10000 BCS crimes. The number of crimes that have been reported to the police in the 2000’s has increased over this period due to changes in rules governing the measure for crime, police recording procedures and actual reporting from the public.

One strength of this method for measuring crime is due to the sample and the fact that it can be considered a large sample, with there being 50000 participants every two years so it provides a decent representation of the crime that is occurring in England and Wales and how many people are being affected. There is also no sampling bias as everyone over the age of 16 has an equal chance of being selected and they are now recently giving the age range of 10-16 year olds to take part in the survey, despite over previous years, the BCS survey not including the younger years and their criminal experiences.

However a limitation of victim surveys is that the recollection of the crimes reported may be inaccurate because the memories of the actual crime may be too painful to recall therefore they may not go into detail on the events that occurred as they don’t want to drag up the past. The memory of the incident may also be distorted by the time that the survey is handed out as the participant may have forgotten particular details that may be vital.

Further weaknesses of this method of measuring crime is that fact that it doesn’t take into account the first year of the two years that the survey is given out because it only asks for accounts of crime that has happened over the previous year. Another issue that comes up with victim surveys is the potential for a freak sample which may occur if the sample is chosen at random. If they get a freak sample of surveys this may not be truly representative of the entire population.

When measuring crime it is frequently found that the statistics that are gathered from each method tend to contradict each other. For example, official statistics show that there is a 2% decrease during 2006/7 from the previous year however results from the BCS suggests that there has actually been a 3% increase in overall crime. Official statistics also demonstrate how there has been a 1% decrease in violent robbery and 7% in sexual offences nevertheless the BCS figures show that there has been a 5% increase in violent crime. The obvious difference between the official statistics of recorded crime and the victim surveys suggest that there is a dark figure of crime, which can be defined as the difference between the official level of crime recorded through the official statistics and the actual amount of crime which occurs. Crimes that occur may not be detected, reported or recorded by the official figures.

This dark figure of crime may occur for two particular reasons, that police don’t record all the crime that is reported to them or that not all victims of crime report the crime to the police in the first place but may discuss them on a victim survey, thus explaining the difference found amongst the official statistics and the victim surveys. Some police may not record particular crimes if they believe they are too minor whereas some may even record crimes with an informal policy rather than always sticking to the officially stated policy, which is demonstrated through the Farrington and Dowd’s study. Some police may not record a certain crime if they deem it not to be serious or ‘worth their time,’ for example if someone has been stealing your plant pots, it is technically a crime however something like that may not be deemed creating a fuss over. Some crimes that occur police may regard to be a domestic issue that should be dealt within the institution that it occur inside, for example a university campus, which police believe should be solved internally.

There are also many reasons behind why people won’t report the crimes that they experience to the police directly but instead talk about it within the victim surveys handed out. Some victims are unaware that they are victims of crime, for example a child that is currently being abused or an OAP who has been a victim of fraud and doesn’t understand how wrong the actions of the offender were. Another reason may be that the victim thinks that they won’t be believed by the police or that they’ll take them seriously, such as rape victims. These particular victims may also be uneasy over the legal processes that will occur if the case gets taken to trial and them having to be cross examined by lawyers and the cost and length of the process, which can put people off reporting criminal behaviour. Some won’t report a crime if they were actually breaking the law themselves when the crime actually occurred so are afraid of being prosecuted for their own actions, for example a drug dealer being cheated out of their money and beaten up. The victim may also be afraid of any repercussions that may happen if after the criminal has been arrested and then gets released, they may worry about the offender coming back to find them as revenge and receiving threats to you or your family.

To conclude it is clear that there are many limitations to the methods that are used for measuring crime, thus creating a false representation of the actual crime that is occurring within England and Wales.  The vast difference between the results that are found through both official statistics and victim surveys show how neither are totally reliable and there is a large amount of crime that is unrecorded by the police or not even reported to the police by the victim for several reasons. Therefore this means that it is unclear how much crime is actually occurring out there and how much of this crime the methods in Britain are actually picking up on.

Suzanne W. A Level Psychology tutor, GCSE Psychology tutor

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