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Measuring Crime

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Measuring Crime

What is a crime? Some people think it is criminal to put pineapple on a pizza, and in the UK, it is still illegal to knowingly board public transport if you have the plague.

All these notions of ‘crime’ seem ridiculous, don’t they? So how do we define crime, and what problems do we encounter in the process?

When defining crime, one must consider cultural and historical aspects. Think of the plague example. The plague is no longer a problem, but the law is still in place, so when the needs of society change, the laws should change with them.

Measuring Crime Crime scene StudySmarter

Crime scene, Canva

When it comes to crime, there are also cultural aspects to consider. For example, bigamy (marrying two people simultaneously) is a crime in the United Kingdom, while it is encouraged in other societies. Thus, crime depends on culture.So how do we define crime? What are the methods used to measure crime? These are some Firstly, there are three different ways to define crime: official statistics, victim surveys, and offender surveys.

What problems are there when defining crime?

In general, we can define crime as anything that breaks the law and results in punishment. But the definition of breaking the law changes from country to country, and crime is not always punished. Also, crime can change over time.

For example, things that were not illegal in the past may be illegal in the present. For example, the coronavirus pandemic changed some laws and added procedures, and non-compliance with them can lead to punishment.

Measuring Crime Prisoners StudySmarter

Prisoners, Canva

What are cultural problems with defining crime?

Things considered crimes in some cultures might not be illegal in others. For example, homosexuality is illegal in some countries but legal in others because gay marriage is legalised.

What are the historical problems with defining crime?

Attitudes toward homosexuality also change over time. In Britain, it was considered a crime until 1967. Now gay marriage is legalised and is no longer so outlawed by the majority of the UK. Therefore, definitions of crimes change drastically over time, which can be a problem in defining crimes.

What are the methods used to measure crime?

Given the problems described earlier, how can we measure crime? Let us look at some of the methods typically used to measure crime.

Official statistics

These are official government records of the total number of crimes reported to the police and recorded in official figures. In the UK, the Home Office publishes these statistics annually, which are helpful in understanding crime rates geographically. They help the government develop crime prevention strategies and policing initiatives, such as direct assistance to those in need.

Measuring Crime Statistics StudySmarter

Statistics, Canva

Victim surveys

Victim surveys record people’s experiences of crime over some time, as part of the Crime Survey for England and Wales. These surveys document the crimes people have fallen victim to in the previous year. They select a random sample of 50,000 households to participate. The survey has been conducted since 1982, and in 2009, a version for young people aged 10 to 15 was added.

Offender surveys

These surveys rely on voluntary information from individuals about the types of crimes they have committed. The survey assesses risk factors such as past convictions, age, social background, and more to identify likely offenders.The first version of this type of survey in the United Kingdom occurred between 2003 and 2006. The Offender Crime and Justice Survey looked at repeat offending, trends in offenders, drug and alcohol use, co-offending, and the relationship between offenders and victims.

Pros and cons of measuring crime

As with any technique, we need to keep in mind the pros and cons of measuring crime.

Disadvantages

Let us deliver the ‘bad news’ first. Here are some disadvantages of measuring crime.

Official statistics

Many believe that official statistics are not an accurate measurement of crime. In fact, many states significantly underestimate crime. Some crimes go unreported by victims or unrecorded by police. As a result, some commentators claim the statistics represent only up to 25% of crime. Criminologists refer to the remaining 75% as the ‘dark figure’ of crime. Therefore, the official statistics may not show the true extent of crime.

The politics of measuring crime

Politicians can distort crime figures for political reasons. Opposing political parties are more likely to use measures that make the other party look bad. For example, the ruling party might use figures showing that crime decreases to make itself look good, while the opposition party uses figures showing the opposite to make them look bad.Some groups might also misuse statistics for political or discriminatory reasons. For example, a misogynist might highlight the number of women in sex work without realising that women are more vulnerable in this type of work.Although an independent body compiles crime statistics in the UK, it is the way political parties and organisations use the statistics that calls their validity into question.

A multidisciplinary approach

There are significant issues with reliability and validity when it comes to using surveys and statistics to measure crime. As a result, all crime statistics should be interpreted with extreme caution. Therefore, researchers advocate for a multidisciplinary approach (combining all methods) for solving crime to give the best insight into the true extent of offending.

Advantages

Every cloud has a silver lining – time to dig into the advantages of victim and offender surveys.

Victim surveys

Victim surveys tend to contain details about crimes not reported to the police. Therefore, they are believed to have higher accuracy than other measurement methods. For example, official statistics for 2006/2007 showed a 2% decrease in crime, while the British Crime Survey reported a 3% increase. This finding suggests that the official statistics may have been less accurate due to the under-reporting of crime.

Offender behaviour

Offender surveys are helpful because they provide information on how, why and how many people commit crimes. Even though these surveys assure confidentiality, people may still feel uncomfortable disclosing their crimes or may even brag that they have committed more crimes than they have. Therefore, the results may not be accurate.The sample of surveys also means that these surveys probably do not cover white-collar crimes, such as financial crimes, but overrepresent other types of crimes, such as theft or burglary.

Comparison

Crime measurement methods that provide quantitative data are beneficial for comparing crime rates and types across different times and cultures. We can counter cultural and historical problems in defining crime in this way.


Measuring Crime - Key takeaways

  • There are many ways to measure crime, including official statistics, victim surveys, and offender surveys.
  • There are also problems in defining crime, such as cultural and historical bias.
  • Cultural bias is when crimes are defined differently in different cultures.
  • Historical bias is when ideas about crime change over time.
  • Victim surveys ask the public if they have been a victim of crime in the past year.
  • Offender surveys ask offenders about the nature and extent of the crimes they have committed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Measuring Crime

We measure crime in several ways, including official statistics, victim surveys, and offender surveys.

Victim surveys record people’s experiences of crime over a specific time through The Crime Survey for England and Wales.

It helps us understand the prevalence and type of crimes in our area, enabling us to prevent them.

Official statistics, victim surveys, and offender surveys.

There are different problems with each method of defining crime. For example, official statistics might be inaccurate or misconstrued for political gain.

Final Measuring Crime Quiz

Question

Why are there problems when it comes to defining crime?

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Answer

Crime may also change over time. For example, legal things two years ago might now be illegal due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Question

Why might there be cultural issues with defining crime? 

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Answer

Acts considered crimes in some cultures might not be illegal in others. For example, homosexuality is illegal in some countries, but legal in others, with homosexual marriage legalised.

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 Why might there be historical issues with defining crime?

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Answer

Definitions of crime change drastically over time, which can be a problem in defining crime. For example, attitudes towards homosexuality change over time. It was a crime in the UK until 1967. Now, gay marriage is legalised, and most of the UK accepts it.

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Question

When did the UK decriminalise homosexuality?

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Answer

1967

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Question

Give an example of historical change in perceptions of crime.

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Answer

 [Answers similar to the following example are acceptable] At one time, it was illegal for a woman to have an abortion in the UK. Now, with cultural changes regarding women’s rights, it is legal.

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Give an example of cultural issues in perceptions of crime.

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Answer

[Answers similar to the following example are acceptable] In some countries and cultures, forced marriage is not only accepted but legal. Of course, it is illegal in the UK, showing that there are cultural differences in the definition of crime.

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Question

List three ways of measuring crime.

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Answer

Victim surveys, offender surveys and official statistics.


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In the UK, which body publishes official crime statistics?

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Answer

The Home Office.

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What is a victim survey?

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Answer

These surveys record people’s experiences of crime over a specific time through The Crime Survey for England and Wales. Victim surveys document the crimes people have fallen victim to in the previous year.

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 What is the UK’s victim survey called?

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Answer

The Crime Survey for England and Wales.

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 What was added to the victim survey in 2009?

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Answer

A version of the victim survey was added in 2009, including victims aged 10 to 15.

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When did the first offender survey take place in the UK? 

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Answer

From 2003 to 2006.

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What is the name of the offender survey carried out in the UK?

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Answer

The Offender Crime and Justice Survey.

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What percentage of crime do researchers think official statistics actually record?

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Answer

 25%.

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Question

Which of these is NOT a way of measuring crime? 

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Answer

Census

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