More Or Less Crime In Britain Criminology Essay

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Crime is behaviour that breaks criminal law and it is difficult to give any accurate answers as to how much crime exists (Tierney, 2006). In addition to this, Morrison (2005) argued that crime functions as a fundamental concept in modern society. Thus crime is a social construction. It is a product of social interaction that only makes sense within the society in which that interaction occurs. Others, who support this concept, include that there are multiple social divisions linked to crime. For example, an individual's wealth and income, sexuality, gender, race and age all play a key role in defining (Carrabine et al., 2009). Moreover, interpretational views (Box, 2009) suggest crime does not exist, only acts which are given different meanings within different social structures exist. In support of this, Becker (1963) cited in Croall (2011, p. 5) stated that 'crime is not an intrinsic property of any particular action or behaviour - it is the interpretation that others place upon it that makes it criminal.' Therefore crime or unlawful activity is behaviour labelled by others as such. There would be no crime if criminal law was not enforced or enacted in society, as proposed by law-violation approaches (Muncie, 2009).

What does evidence show?

Figures for Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show a 6% decrease in overall crime against adults for the year ending June 2012, compared to the previous year. This continues the descending trend in crime which has been seen since 2004/05 (Office for National Statistics, 2012).

For 2011/2 , the Crime Survey for England and Wales reported 9.1 million crimes and those recorded by the police were less than half as many amounting to 3.9 million (Burn - Murdoch, The Guardian, 2012). Data from Home Office (2011) shows that BCS crime fell between 1995 and 2004/05 BCS. Since then, crime has continued to be downward, though at a slower rate and with some fluxes in year-to-year estimates.

Recorded crime also fell each year until 1998/99 when a change in Counting Rules was introduced and resulted in an increase in recorded offences. In April 2002, the introduction of the NCRS also affected crime figures as more offences were made notifiable, thus increasing the number or recorded crime figures in 2002/3 especially for less violent crime. Furthermore, some police forces had already adopted the new NCRS methods before they were officially introduced. Between 2001/02 and 2003/04 there was significant discrepancy in the trends for BCS and police recorded crime due to the changes in police recording. Since 2003/04, despite some fluxes, trends have been more reliable between the two series (Home Office Statistical Bulletin, 2010/11, pp. 29-30)

Property crime has high reporting rates, crimes of violence, sexual assaults and minor thefts have normally resulted in low reporting rates

What are criminal statistics?

Reiner (2009) argues that recorded crime mainly consists of property crime. After 1997, BCS figures show a decline in total victimisation up to 2005/6. Rise in recorded crime after 1997 is due to changes in counting rules in 1998 and 2002.

Criminal statistics are police recorded crime figures and for an offence to be counted as a crime, the act has to be seen by a member of the public, victim, police or other law enforcement agencies who then interpret it as potentially a crime and decide to take further action (Croall, 2011). This suggests that these people are vital in defining crime.

Class conflict theories suggest that statistics provide an awareness into the class based nature of the criminal justice system, rather than show actual crime rates. They are manipulated to suit the interests of the powerful, hence signifying the inequalities and biases intrinsic in the system and a society immersed in capitalism (Tierney, 2006).

What are victim surveys plus others?

The BCS began in 1982 as a complimentary measure of crime

Self-report surveys are normally used by young people and are valuable in finding out how many times the population have participated in crime. They also provide details regarding the class, age, sex or race of those that have admitted to offending.

Not only does the Crime Survey for England and Wales ask if people have been victims of crime, it aims to enquire information regarding the location and timing of crimes, the offender's characteristics and the relationship between victims and offenders (Office for National Statistics, 2012).  

For Scotland, there is a separate survey to measure crime called The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey which is conducted on behalf of the Office for National Statistics (Office for National Statistics, 2012).  

In 2009, the survey was extended to include children aged between 10 and 15 (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2010/11, p. 20). This may help in gaining further knowledge of the full extent of crime in Britain, although this process also comes with its own limitations. The children may be afraid to respond truthfully, give very little information or even exaggerate their answers, hence affecting the accuracy of their responses (Croall, 2011).

Advantages and Limitations

Criminal statistics for England and Wales do not reflect the full extent of unlawful activity. For example, data from the British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence is excluded. These agencies publish their own statistics which are not included in total crime figures. It appears that criminal statistics have a tendency to expose more about crime recording and prosecution patterns than about real patterns of genuine criminal activity (Carrabine et al, 2002). Police records do not include criminal prosecutions made by other law enforcers such as those by British Transport Police. The statistics hardly provide information about the seriousness of offences and how are they categorised. Many factors may affect how offences and offenders are counted (Maguire, 2007 cited in Croall, 2011, p. 51).

(Croall, 2011) argues that victim surveys miss out white collar and financial crimes. They do not survey people below 16 years, organisations such as hospitals, secondary schools and care homes. Croall (2011) suggests that respondents' definitions of crime are limited by their memory and restricted to crimes which they are aware of. This could lead to some crimes being left out, especially those they cannot detect themselves or others that they may have repressed. Victim surveys only record single events, and consequently miscalculate the full extent of repeat victimisation.

Therefore, the CSEW is not representative of the whole population of Britain and cannot be used to give an overview picture of crime, due to the nature of its sample. Furthermore, the survey does not cover all offences such as homicide, fraud and drug offences compared to police recorded figures which have better coverage of offences.

Sexual victimisation questions are asked in a separate form, and results are not included in the main sum of crime collected by the BCS, due to their delicate nature (Home Office, 2011). This further illustrates how the survey is limited to the evidence it provides.

Crime surveys only measure criminal incidents where a victim can be identified or where a victim accepts such a status. Therefore victimless crimes do not count and are left out. They rely on individuals being honest which could prove problematic for victims of sexual assault. Respondents may not always remember incidents correctly, a problem which rises with the length of the recall period. The BCS only covers residents in private households and exclude those that live in other accommodation such as rented housing or University Halls of Residence. Other marginalised groups include homeless people who may experience a higher risk of crime victimisation, but are remained unquestioned and excluded from the survey.

Tierney (2006) argues that the BCS provides huge numbers of crime incidents not present in police recorded crime figures. However, this is only applicable to certain offence categories, rather than crime as a whole. He also suggests that victim surveys just like police recorded crimes; do not pick up all crime, theft from businesses i.e. shoplifting, taxation and social security fraud.


Over time, there have been severe changes that have affected police recorded crime figures. As a result, this makes it challenging to make valid interpretations of long term trends (Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2010/11).

Some crimes may be somewhat invisible or the victim is totally unaware of any harm or actions regarded unlawful. For example the sexual abuse of children takes place in a private setting and children could be unaware that something is wrong (Croall, 2011). Some incidents such as theft at work may result in a dismissal. This will not be reported to the police and such incidents of occupational crime are therefore missed out in total recorded crime figures.

Changes in the law create difficulties in shaping an accurate measure of crime, as some laws are repealed and others introduced. This means that 'legal rules are in a constant state of flux' (Tierney, 2006, p. 28). The role of the police is an important factor in the process of constructing crime statistics, as they have to decide whether an unlawful crime has occurred and under which category of offence it falls under. Other factors that may increase or decrease amounts of crime recorded include; the number of police officers, which has increased over the past fifteen years, the use of increasingly sophisticated technology such as computers, more efficient systems of administration and more expenditure on policing (Tierney, 2006). Jacks notes

Biderman and Reiss (1967) cited in Tierney (2006, p. 32) who termed realism, suggest that a real and objective amount of crime exists in society and only some of it is recorded, hence a 'dark figure' of crime also exists. For realists victim surveys offer a means of discovering more accurate amounts of crime, as they are not affected by the institutional process created in police recording (Tierney, 2006).

It is stated by Carrabine et al (2002, p. 5) that '…no government or police force has ever succeeded in producing totally accurate maps and measures of crime.'

Jacks notes. This is supported by evidence which suggests crime statistics have consistently found that over 80% of offenders known to authorities are male and almost half are under 21 years. Young men dominate on violence statistics as both victims and offenders because the main locations for violent encounters are streets or pubs. Meanwhile, the home is the most dangerous place for a woman to experience such crime (Carrabine et al (2002)

Incidents of tax and benefit fraud dealt with separately by other agencies such as the Inland Revenue, and these are not officially recorded as crime.

New legislation has created new offences, modified the definitions of others and therefore changes the 'official' picture of Crime in Britain.

Not all crimes are reported to improve the clear up rate, or it's a result of police inefficiency and organization. The numbers of offences discovered by the police are subject to variations in their law enforcement activities. Carrabine et al. (2002, p. 16) state: 'High profile planned operations against a particular type of offence (e.g. street crime, or drugs) will inevitably bring about an increase in arrests and the discovery and recording of many new offences in the targeted areas.' On the contrary, if police are not interested in a certain type of crime, numbers may fall as they are less likely to record offences for that crime.

Criminal statistics do not reveal actual criminal behaviour. Instead they vary 'according to the organisational constraints and the priorities of the criminal justice system' (Carrabine et al, 2002, p. 17). Crimes against socially vulnerable victims or that occur in private are more likely to be hidden and the less likely to be publicly recorded.

Home office, 2010/11 statistical bulletin pp. 15-16: The National Statistician (2011) recognised that crime is a fundamentally problematic phenomenon to measure and that neither police recorded figures or those from CSEW 'can produce a count of 'total' crime' (The Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2010/11, pp. 15-16).

Perhaps crime statistics provide more of an insight into official definitions of crime, crime recording and policing practice than into actual levels of unlawful activity (Carrabine et al. 2009, p.39).

In 1998, changes made to the Counting Rules in recorded crime affected violent crime as some previously non-notifiable assaults were categorised as notifiable. This further illustrates the socially constructed nature of criminal statistics. This is supported Maguire (1994) cited in Tierney (2006, p. 20): 'crime itself is a social contrast and statistics that relate to it are socially constructed.'

Theft has become harder now as there is more prevalent surveillance of CCTV which has been effective in helping police forces and private security. There are also more police officers than 15 years ago. In addition to this, there are other roles such as Police Community Support Officers, ticket inspectors, car park keepers and caretakers all available to aid in crime prevention (Newburn, The Guardian, 2012).

Law enforcement decisions affect all subsequent stages when a crime is encountered or reported as not all complaints are recorded. This creates a discrepancy between offences reported to and recorded by the police. Offences may not be recorded because they are viewed as trivial or involving 'no crime' (Coleman and Moynihan, 1996 cited in Croall, 2011, p. 42).

Changes brought about by the introduction of the NCRS in 2002 have a great impact on. This complicates any possible comparisons of recorded crime to previous years.

Cuffing could be a result of police forces being strongly encouraged to be cost effective.

Diversionary schemes have been introduced by successive governments and these involve finalising an offence out of court with an on-the-spot fine for instance (Croall, 2011).

This further underlines the existence of a hidden dark figure of crime which is never recorded in the official statistics. This shows that 'officially recorded crimes and convicted offenders are those that have survived the process of attrition and are not representative of all who break the criminal law' (Croall, 2011, p.44).

The disparities in the proportions of crimes counted means that it is difficult to know what sort of crime is rising or falling, as any increases or decreases could symbolize a change in the proportion of crimes reported to or recorded by the police. On the other hand, more policing can increase crime rates, by catching more and recording more crime. Jacks notes

Home office, Statistical Bulletin, 2010/11, p. 17; police recorded figures are not comparable with those from previous years.

Schlesinger and Tumber (1999) argue that new forms of crime such as terrorism and drug trafficking have developed. These crimes are not included in the total crime figure.