What Are the Major Problems with Regard to the Collection of Crime Statistics?
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There are two main sources for published crime statistics; the British Crime Survey, a face to face victimization survey, covering experiences of crime in the previous twelve months, and police recorded crime which is supplied by 43 different territorial police forces on a monthly basis (Home Office, 2011). Both sources have different strengths and weaknesses such as police discretion for recording certain crimes or the time period covered in the British Crime Survey (Walker et al 2006). Also, both sources cover different areas of crime in greater depths, for example, police recorded crime provides a more fuller picture for the levels of indictable offences such as homicides. The British Crime Survey can provide a more accurate image of summary offences that may be unrecorded or unreported to the police. Solely, the sources fail to provide an accurate image for crime statistics, but when used collectively, it is possible to gain a fuller picture for crime statistics. On a monthly basis, 43 national police forces provide data that make up the official police recorded crime statistics. The data provided by the police contain major pitfalls and so cannot be taken at face value to form an accurate number of crimes reported in the official statistics.
There are three significant factors which shape the statistics published; formal recording rules, the recording behaviour of the police and the reporting behaviour of the public (Maguire, 2006). Firstly, the recorded crime statistics do not include all offence categories, being heavily weighted by indictable offences such as homicide, which are triable in the Crown Court only. This means that a vast majority of summary offences, such as minor assaults which are tried in a Magistrates Court, are not reported in the official statistics published by the Home Office. Further to this, the recorded crime statistics do not include high levels of tax and benefit fraud, although internal records are kept of the latter offences. By excluding many summary offences and fraud cases, we cannot gather a full and accurate picture of crime statistics. However, to rectify this problem, the Home Office has made changes in 1998/9 to include more summary offence categories such as common assault, harassment and assault on a constable which added over 250,000 extra offences.
This increase, although artificial, to an individual unaware of the technicalities, would suggest an extreme increase in the levels of violent crime, although this is not actually the case. A further issue with the recording rules of the police is how crime is counted. Several crimes may be committed in a short space of time and is consequently regarded as one crime, for example a thief may steal from a three people, this would be regarded as one sole crime. In 1967, following the recommendations of the Perks Committee, clearer counting rules were put in place (Maguire,2006).
However, these rules were further revised in 1998 to take a more victim based approach to counting crime, so using the previous example of a thief stealing from three people, whereas previously, these crimes would be counted as one crime, following the new rules, the thief would be accountable for three separate crimes as there are three victims. Although the rules have been revised, some crimes have not been effected by the changes, this includes ongoing domestic abuse. This is because, although there are many different occasions of assault, there is only one victim, therefore only one crime has been committed. With the inclusion of more offences and the changes in counting rules, it can be said that there has been an increase in the number of crimes reported in the police recorded statistics of around 14% from 1997/8 to 1998/9 (Home Office, 2001:28) Although the official recording rules provide the basics for recording crime, there is still room for
Chloe Wraight, Level 4 Applied Criminology police discretion. Police recording behaviour plays a major role in the low levels of summary offences that appear in the published statistics. It has been found, by bodies such as the Audit Commission that certain police forces have been liable for under recording (Audit Commission 2004). In order to help resolve this issue, the National Crime Recording Standards (NCRS) was introduced in 2002. This aimed to improve the honesty of police recording and consistency between forces. The standards were introduced in order to produce a closer consistency between crimes logged by the public and those that went on to be recorded as crimes by the police, creating the assumption that any incident reported by the public to the police should be recorded as a crime. This should only then be removed from the crime records once there is evidence to suggest that the offence had not been committed. This would then provide a fuller image of crimes in the official statistics.
However, it is not possible to control police discretion when police discover crimes themselves whilst out on patrol as they can turn a blind eye to certain behaviours. The reporting behaviour of the public can have a significant impact on the number of crimes that reach the published crime statistics as the bulk of crime reported comes from the public. So any changes in reporting behaviour can have great impacts on crime trends. There are many factors as to why individuals may or may not report crime to the police including changes in technology, such as the introduction of mobile phones which has made the reporting crime easier and so could lead to an increase in the number of crimes recorded. Also, the increase in insurance policies may have an impact on the increase of recorded crimes as it would be necessary to have evidence to support an insurance claim. The most significant reason as to why people do or do not report crimes is the view of the police and their response to crime. It can be said that certain crimes, such as drug use may not be reported to the police as some individuals may feel that nothing would be done about the crime and so would be wasting their own and police time.
However, we can see an improvement in the views of police through the rise in recorded rape, due to the improvement in treatment of victims and the police believing more accounts of rape (Blair 1984), therefore more victims of rape have come forward. Finally, police statistics do not contain important information, namely the context in which certain crimes have been committed, for example, robbery provides a diverse set of criminal acts, ranging from organized robbery to snatching a purse therefore we cannot fully understand the severity of the crimes that are published in official statistics. In conclusion, with regard to police recorded statistics, it can be said that we cannot provide any definitive answers about crime statistics with concern to trends, patterns and contexts of crime due to the major downfalls in how crime is recorded, reported and counted.
The second source of crime statistics is the British Crime Survey (BCS) which is an official alternative to police recorded statistics. The British Crime Survey is a face to face survey where the interviewee is asked about their experiences of crime in previous twelve months and also their attitudes towards the police and the Criminal Justice System. The BCS aims to produce a fuller image of crime compared to the crime statistics with regard to certain types of offence (Mayhew and Hough, 1988) using a representative sample of households in England and Wales of individuals in the households over the age of sixteen. If the individual has been a victim of crime in the time period of the previous twelve months, they will complete a victim form (Maguire, 2006) Further to this, the individual will complete self completion modules. These regard certain topic areas which may be uncomfortable to talk about to an interviewer. The self
Chloe Wraight, Level 4 Applied Criminology completion modules cover topics such as illicit drug use, sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. These modules are completed by the individual on the interviewers laptop and once answered, the answers are hidden (Home Office, 2011). This can provide positive effects on results of sensitive topics as the individual may feel more comfortable answering questions privately. Also, this could avoid issues, mainly with domestic violence, with the perpetrator being present whilst the interview is taking place. Self report modules allows the individual to report such crimes without fear of further violence from the perpetrator. A weakness of the British Crime Survey is that it does not include many vulnerable groups of people who are more likely to be influenced by crime, including homeless people and those living in institutions. This could have a major impact on how representative the results gained actually are of the whole population.
The British Crime Survey, like recorded crime, does not provide a true picture of crime as it does not include crimes that are victimless and crimes effecting those under 16. It also fails to include new crimes, such as plastic card crimes, due to consistency with the questions asked in the survey. In conclusion, it is evident that when using the two data sources together, we can gain a fuller understanding of crime rates within England and Wales, unlike when used separately where it is only possible to gain a partial image of crime rates. Where the British Crime Survey highlights the fact that there is actually 75% of crime that goes unrecorded by the police, it increases crime statistics dramatically, but this mainly includes trivial crimes. The BCS also shows more stranger crimes, but it is less successful in showing crimes where the victim knows the offender such as sexual crimes, these are more dominant in police recorded crimes. Crime statistics are simply evidence about social and political changes within a time period that effect criminal behaviour, it is not conclusive findings about how much crime rates have increased or decreased in a certain time period. Statistics are also not immune to social change over time. As stated before, many crimes are brought to light through public reporting behaviour. If a certain behaviour, which is criminal, has become more tolerated over time due to social changes it is less likely to have a high rate within the official statistics, unless targeted by the police.
Chloe Wraight, Level 4 Applied Criminology Word Count: 1,709 Reference List Audit Commission (2004), Improving the Quality of Crime Records in Police Authorities and Forces in England and Wales, London: Audit Commission Blair, I. (1984), Investigating Rape: A New Approach for the Police. London:Croom Helm. Home Office. (2001), Criminal Statistics, England and Wales 2000. London: Home Office Home Office. (2011), Users Guide to Home Office Crime Statistics. London: Home Office Maguire, M., Morgan, R., Reiner, R. (2006) Oxford Handbook of Criminology, 4th Edition. Chapter 10, Oxford:Oxford University Press Mayhew, P. and Hough, J.M. (1988), ‘ The British Crime Survey: Origins and Impact’, in M. Maguire and J. Pointing, Victims of Crime: A New Deal?, Milton Keynes: Open University Press. Walker, A., Kershaw, C., Nicholas, S. (2006), Crime in England and Wales 2005/06, London: Home Office