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Crime Statistics Evaluated.
Crime statistics ought to be evaluated in light of a number of factors that can mislead social constructions of offending. Conclusions drawn from individual data sets are to be evaluated against the dark figure of crime and commonly held myths. Statistical data are mostly gathered and interpreted to suit political and corporate agendas (Chambliss, 2001; Croall, 1998; Rampton & Stauber, 2001; Slapper & Tombs, 1999). The criminalization/decriminalization of specific activities/behaviours, for instance, can considerably transform crime trends (Croall, 1998). Male homosexuality, for instance, wasn't decriminalized in Britain until the 1960s (Croall, 1998; Downes & Morgan, 1997). Other issues stem from how the data is collected. Surveys conducted by household, for instance, don't include the victimization of homeless people (Kershaw et al., 2000). Furthermore, crimes in which offenders and victims are consenting parties (for example drug dealing) are largely unreported (Kershaw et al., 2000; Maguire, 1997).
A lot has been done to refine the collection of crime data. The introduction of victims surveys in the British Crime Survey, for instance, has improved the quality of data collection on crimes that are not recorded by the police (Kershaw et al., 2000; Zedner, 1997). Nevertheless, the reliability of statistics on offending remains questionable. Public myths over the crime problem, combined with corporate interests, drive political activities, which in turn work to mould public perceptions. These are perpetuated by the media who tend to sensationalize street crime, for instance, in order to attract the readership (Chambliss, 2001; Reiner, 1997; Slapper & Tombs, 1999). The proceeding lines will provide an account of current statistics and trends, following this line of reasoning.
Looking at the shape of crime as it appears from the 2004 BCS summary of trends, it appears that rates of offending have consistently dropped in the past decade (Dodd et al., 2004). More in detail, since 1995 violent crimes have decreased by 36%. Acts of vandalism have decreased by 27%. Vehicle theft, theft from the person, other types of theft and burglary rates appear to have declined, respectively, by 51%, 9%, 36% and 47% (Dodd et al., 2004). Though the validity of these figures, to an extent, cannot be totally dismissed, particularly in sight of their statistical significance, they should be further investigated.
Many of these crimes, including vandalism and theft, for instance, are assessed by household (Dodd et al., 2004). Therefore theft offences from homeless people may not appear in these figures. Crimes of violence, on the other hand, are statistically assessed against the overall number of adults in England and Wales (Dodd et al., 2004). In this case, illegal immigrants who do not appear in official registers are not included. The table published by the Home Office also contains a definitional bias. As it was acknowledged by the authors themselves:
The BCS common assault definition includes minor injuries. From 2002/03 the recorded crime definition does not include minor injuries (Dodd et al., 2004).
This means that figures related to common assault included a larger variety of violent episodes in the years prior to 2002. This can account for the 43% drop in common assault since 1995 (Dodd et al., 2004).The monitoring of other types of offending, such as 'cybercrime', has been introduced by external agencies (Power, 2000), though the Home Office themselves have addressed the problem in current publications (Morris, 2004). Cybercrime refers to a variety of offensive activities, to include theft of proprietary information [¦], financial fraud [¦] [and the] creation and distribution of computer viruses (Power, 2000: 4).
According to the Computer Emergency Response Team (2000), there was a considerable increase in the reporting of internet alerts between 1988 and 1999. It should be noted that this could be largely due to the limited access and technological tools available in the 1980s, compared to the 1990s. Internet alerts, however, fell by the year 2000 (Power, 2000), maybe due to more advanced preventative measures. Financial fraud can currently be denounced as a type of cybercrime, in that it often employs a network of internet transactions, involving large amounts of money and large scale victimization, internationally and over long periods of time (Levi, 1987; Rampton & Stauber, 2001; Slapper & Tombs, 1999).
Corporate and internet offending tend to be largely undetected due to their complex nature (Levi, 1987; Rampton & Stauber, 2001; Slapper & Tombs, 1999). Because of this, corresponding data tends to be scattered between a variety of agencies (Power, 2000; Slapper & Tombs, 1999). A strategic and more advanced model, therefore, should be developed to effectively address the emerging new trends of offending.
Chambliss, W. J. (2001) Power, politics and crime, Oxford, Westview Press.
Croall, H. (1998) Crime and society in Britain, London, Longman.
Dodd, T., Nicholas, S., Povey, D. & Walker, A. (2004) Crime in England and Wales 2003/2004, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/hosb1004.pdf
Downes, D. & Morgan, R. (1997) Dumping the 'Hostages to Fortune'? The politics of Law and Order in Post-War Britain, in: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. (eds.) 1997, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Kershaw, C., Budd, T., Kinshott, G., Mattinson, J., Mayhew, P. & Myhill, A. (2000) Home Office Statistical Bulletin: the 2000 British Crime Survey, London, Home Office.
Levi, M. (1987) Regulating Fraud, London, Tavistock.
Maguire, M. (1997) Crime statistics, patterns, and trends: changing perceptions, in: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. (eds.) 1997, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Morris, S. (2004) The future of netcrime now: Part 2 -responses, http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/rdsolr6304.pdf
Power, R. (2000) Tangled Web: tales of digital crime from the shadows of cyberspace, Indianapolis, Que.
Rampton, S. & Stauber, J. (2001) Trust us, we're experts, New York, Penguin/Putnam.
Reiner, R. (1997) Media made criminality: the representation of crime in the mass media, in: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. (eds.) 1997, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Slapper, G. & Tombs, S. (1999) Corporate Crime, London, Longman.
Zedner, L. (1997) Victims, in: Maguire, M., Morgan, R. & Reiner, R. (eds.) 1997, The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, Oxford, Oxford University Press.