Crime statistics

Crime statistics

Reiner (1996) points to a number of clear patterns:

  • Between the wars the level of crime remained relatively constant.
  • Recorded crime has increased rapidly since 1950.
  • The 1994 and 1995 crime statistics illustrate a 6% fall in recorded crime.

The uses of statistics:

  • Comparison - reveal trends.
  • Police efficiency - clear up rate.
  • Identify problem areas - resource allocation.
  • Public information - for example, high crime areas.
  • To explain crime - causation (positivism).

However, the general view is that they reveal more about the process of reporting and recording than about the extent of criminal activity.

It is generally agreed that crime statistics are seriously flawed and that there is a dark figure of hidden crime.

1. The public

The public

Most crime is reported by the public 90%. The BCS found that the public:

  • Don't report petty crime.
  • Report for personal advantage - insurance.
  • Don't report what they see as private matters - domestics.
  • Don't report friends/family.
  • Don't report crime that could shame/frighten them.
  • Don't report crimes that are unknown - don't realise.

Lea and Young 'Losing the fight' - some communities won't report crime. Lack of confidence in police.

2. Visibility

  • Crimes without victims - drug dealing; prostitution.
  • White- collar crime - 'fiddles', 'perks' - for example, Ditton.
  • Customers/people unaware they are victims.
  • Corporate crime - often dealt with by other state agencies.
  • Don't want to get 'involved'.
  • In some communities, 'informal' policing might be used.
  • Some crimes more likely to be reported - rape, assault over-represented in official figures?
  • Police crime - Box (1995) beating up suspects, fabricating evidence, etc.

3. Police


The Police decide:

  • Response - more likely to respond to some groups - PSI survey of the met.
  • Found more likely to respond to ethnic minorities!
  • Categories - police decide what category a crime fits.
  • Dispersal - police decide which areas to police.
  • Differential enforcement - some offences rather than others.
  • Discretion - who to stop.
  • Culture - promotion seeking - arrests are important.

4. Courts

  • 80% of offenders plead guilty - possibility of plea bargaining - negotiating
  • Justice, Robertson (1977).
  • Majority who appear in court are working class.

5. Media and politics


  • Existence of 'moral entrepreneurs'.
  • Marxists argue that law is used to repress working class. Police concentrate on working class areas.
  • Media amplifies deviance and creates moral panics.

The statistics are so inaccurate that we don't know if a recorded rise in crime is actually a rise, or just an increase in convictions. Similarly, with a fall in the crime rate, is it an actual fall or just the result of fewer convictions?

Only about 30% of recorded crime is actually 'solved'. Therefore, we can't tell to what extent convicted criminals resemble un-convicted ones.

Self-report studies

Box, Deviance, Reality and Society claimed that:

  • The figures are not valid - people lie.
  • The offences are trivial and of little relevance.
  • They are not representative - deals with delinquency rather than crime.

Victim surveys

First used in USA with staggering results. BCS started in 1981. Most recent = 1998.

  • A large gap between crime committed and that recorded by police.
  • Most crime committed against young males.