There are many ways of measuring crime; the main way is crime statistics which are released by the Home Office every six months. Statistics released by the Home Office are produced by the ONS which is the Office for National Statistics. These statistics are made up of crimes that have been reported by the police, people that have been charged for a crime and people who have been convicted by a court and help the police and Government measure trends and analyses crime patterns on a large scale.
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However this method may be flawed in a number of ways, firstly the public may not decide to report a crime may be because it is a private matter such as domestic violence and they feel reporting it may shame them. Secondly certain types of crime are not included within the statistics such as white collar crime; this type of crime is described by Edwin Sutherland (1939) as being a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”. Types of crime that are classed as white collar are insurance fraud, identity theft, money laundering and internet scams.
Another crime that is not included within the statistics is corporate fraud; this includes making false accounts, not being truthful about any finances, false transactions, leaking information about a company, hiding financial losses and taking bribes. Secondly official statistics are flawed since not all crimes are recorded by the police; officers may use discretion in certain cases such as using a mobile phone whilst driving then that person may just get a verbal warning. Most crimes are reported to the police but not recorded, either because the offence is minor or the police choose not to. This is referred to as the ‘dark figure’ of crime “crimes that are committed that are never reported or are undiscovered” (Biderman & Reiss 1967). When the police choose which crimes to include then the figures overall show a false total of the levels of crime in England and Wales.
A way in which the government have tried to improve the reliability of the official statistics is the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey (OCJS), this is a self-reporting survey which asks questions about white collar crime, anti-social behaviour, victimisation, domestic violence, drink and drug use. The idea of the survey which was introduced in 2003 was to fill in gaps in the statistics from the Home Office and examine new emerging crimes (Thornberry & Krohn 2002:43).
The first British Crime Surveys were carried out in the 60s and 70s to help examine crime that had not been reported to the police (Jansson 2007:3), it is used to examine new types of crime that are emerging (Jansson 2007:30). The survey asks around 50,000 people living in England and Wales about crimes that they have experienced first-hand that they have not reported. However a disadvantage of using this method is that it does not include certain crimes such as rape, fraud, abuse and drugs. As the survey focuses on the victim’s, murder cannot be included as the person would be unable to answer. The survey only uses people living in private houses so this excludes nursing homes, hostels, students living at university and council rented property.
All methods of measuring crime provide different perspectives at different levels for example, national or local crime levels. The British Crime Survey provides the government with statistics at a large scale but local government for example; the Islington Crime Survey only uses 2,000 people. This is good as the police will know what areas to focus on in that constituency; it also provides statistics is more detail as it is a smaller area with less people.
One of the purposes of measuring crime is that it will help the government implement new policies and laws, if they know which areas of crime to focus on then they can create a law that targets that aspect of crime. Measuring crime also helps monitor the crime level within the country so that the police can focus on areas with a higher crime rate to reduce it either by campaigns or putting more police on the streets to make it safer. Another purpose is that it can be compared to previous years of crime and it will reveal trends in the figures like if crime is on the rise or it is at a consistent level.
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Measuring crime is also a good way of keeping the public informed, the media can sometimes exaggerate crimes which could turn to moral panic so having official statistics can show the public the actual figures and explain the crime to them. Also measuring crime is important to see if the police are doing their job correctly, if crime levels go down then the police are doing the job if they rise then they need to know how to reduce it. When the Home Office and Office for National Statistics release the statistics they look at what needs improvement and advice the police on how to proceed in different areas.
There also may be a disparity between the crime reported to the police and the crime that is actually recorded; there may be a difference because some police forces pay more attention to other crimes than other types of crimes. Also the government may change the legislation so that certain crimes are downgraded such as drugs or prostitution. Police discretion also plays a part in the different between recorded and reported a crime, it is less likely that the police will charge someone for not wearing their seatbelt but more likely to arrest someone for drunk driving. However the difference might occur when the public decide not to report the crime, this may be because they feel it is not worth police time or they do not want to report the offender if they know them for example, domestic violence incidents.
Some people might prefer to deal with the problem themselves rather than contact the police if they dislike the police for example, ethnic minorities may not be comfortable reporting crimes to the police (Maguire 2002). Another way in which there may be a disparity is that the Home Office issue guidelines to the police to tell them how to classifying different crimes, categorization helps the police to determine what class the crime is in but it may fall under a category that the police do not consider important so they may not record it. A disparity of the figures could be that a rise of a certain crime being reported more than others for example, burglary.
In conclusion measuring crime can never be completely accurate, even with all of the current methods such as statistics and surveys both locally and nationally, the ‘dark figure’ of crime still exists. However many methods and together they show better results but it is helpful if more members of the public report crimes for the police to record but it would also produce more accurate results if the police recorded more crime even if it is petty. Overall it is useful to have crime data it can help to prevent crime and enable the police to use resources more efficiently in certain areas.
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