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Crime Definition and Issues

Definition: An act, with intent, committed in violation of the law where the consequence of conviction by court is punishment. It is also linked to society's moral code/guidelines.

Cultural Issue: 

  • What is considered a crime in countries vary
  • Polygamy is illegal in UK but still legal to in other countries
  • Inconsistency in what crime is across cultures
  • Therefore defining crime is difficult due to cultural relativism

Historical Issue:

  • There are different moral codes between generations 
  • Their response to the crime will be affected by attitudes they grew up with in that time
  • Homosexuality is legal in UK since 1967 but is still illegal in many other countries
  • No consistency between generations
  • Difficult for older generation to transition
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Three measures of crime

1: Official Statistics

  • Crimes reported to the police and recorded by the police
  • Allow government to formulate specific prevention strategies eg neighbourhood watch and police initiatives
  • Published by home office as a 'snapshot' of number of crimes committed across country

2: Victim Surveys

  • Public's experience of crime over particular period
  • 50,000 households randomly chosen to report on crimes they were a victim of in that year
  • England and Wales
  • Often much higher than official statistics

3: Offender Surveys

  • Individuals self report on the types of crimes they committed
  • Offenders based on certain risk factors eg prev convictions, age and socio economic bg
  • Aim: identify trends in offending and relationship between offender and victim
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Evaluation of measures

Official Statistics:


  • Allow Government to target areas to improve crime level eg specific prevention strategies for certain areas such as CCTV, speed cameras so it is useful


  • Many crimes unreported eg for embarassment or unrecorded eg for targets, dark figure of crime 75% of crimes go unrecorded or unreported, this decreases validity (inaccurate)
  • Research criticism: Farrington and Dowds police in Nottinghamshire were more likely than other areas to record thefts of under 10 pounds - shows police targets affect recording

Victim Surveys:


  • Representative of crime rate (more accurate) - showed 3% increase when OS showed 2% decrease in same year
  • Anonymous, people are more honest, increases validity
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  • Inaccurate: "Telescoping"- person remembers event as happening in past year when it didn't and this may distort figures, makes it less valid and over represent the figure
  • Might only get certain type of person to respond eg unemployed so more time to do survey
  • Small sampleh size: 50,000 is small incomparison to Eng and Wales pop, unrepresentative sample

Offender Surveys:


  • Offers insight into how many people responsible for certain crimes (individuals or gangs)


  • Criminal may be reluctant to disclose all crimes they have committed - don't admit in fear of extension to sentence or safety around other prisoners - inaccurate, less valid
  • Might exagerrate for reputation - inaccurate, less valid
  • Crimes eg theft over represented, white collar crimes under represented
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Offender Profiling

  • A behavioural and analytical tool inteded to help investigators accurately predict and profile the characteristics of unknown criminals
  • Police need four types of information from profilers: type of person, future threat, links to other cases and interview strategies to be used with the offender

Top Down approach

  • Qualitative approach
  • Looks at evidence of crime scene and make hypotheses of motivations
  • Use typoligies organised and disorganised 
  • Look at motives and characteristics of past offenders eg Ted Bundy
  • Categories pre made create more knowledge of the crime
  • Classification system used to predict and prevent crime
  • Best in extreme crimes eg murder

Organised: Show evidence of planning in advance, eg little evidence left, has a type, high IQ Disorganised: Show little evidence of planning, little control shown, unemployed, sexually incompetent

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Bottom up approach

  • UK approach
  • Profilers work up from evidence collected from the crime scene to find out likely characteristics and motivations and social background of the offender
  • Investigative psychology involving statistical analysis to establish offender behaviour that co exists across crime scenes 
  • Created statistical database which acts as a baseline

Investigative psychology:

  • Specific details of crime matched to database, compared to others to reveal factors of offender eg family background
  • Interpersonal coherence: way offender behaves at scene and interacted with victim may reflect behaviour in everyday situations eg violent ****, poor relationships with women
  • Forensic awareness: offenders who have been subject to police interrogation before so behaviour may show forensic awareness and precaution to avoid detection (demonstrates experience)
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Bottom up cont

Geographical Profiling

  • Uses location of linked crime scenes to make inferences about likely operational base of offender (mapping) or possible future offences (jeapordy surface)
  • Assumption offenders restrict their crimes to area they are familiar with - understand their spatial pattern of behaviour normally limited mindset to circle
  • Normally base is in middle of pattern - centre of gravity in circle (Circle Theory)
  • Shows whether planned or opportunistic, their employment status, approximate age and mode of transport
  • Marauder: offender operates in close proximity to their base
  • Commuter: offender is likely to have travelled a distance from their base
  • Use dragnet analysis for circle theory
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Top down Evaluation


  • Useful application to real life, from crime scene behaviour patterns are seen and can identify whether organised or disorganised, this improves likelihood and speed of catching criminal and therefore protecting public
  • Based on police experience and case studies rather than psychological theory - empirical basis, findings are more valid


  • Best suited to extreme crimes that have important details about subject eg sex crimes but not more common crimes eg theft, this limits its use, doesn't account for general more common crimes
  • Reduces killer's motives and situations to only two types of offender (org or disorg), can't classify one with high IQ and sexual competence but leaves the body and spontaneously killed. This can lead investigation to the wrong place lengthening the process and keeping public in danger for longer.
  • Small sample size (36) and only represents extreme murders, limited application
  • Outdated - created in 1970s, hasn't been updated since, we now know personalities change due to situation, could fluctuate org/disorg
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Bottom Up Evaluation


  • Supporting research: Carter and railway ****** using geographical profiling and investigative psychology created offender profile on him and inferred it was someone with skilled job who dominates women, offender was carpenter who attacked his wife, successfuly caught, demonstrates effectiveness and prevents future crimes
  • Supporting research: Lundrigan and Carter researched 120 murder cases and smallest space analysis revealed each body disposal site was in a different direction to each other creating a centre of gravity, most of offenders base was there. Supports circle theory and GP effective
  • Real life application: Can be applied to any seriousness of crimes eg burglary to murder. More useful and more generalisable to crimes


  • Contradictory statistic: 48 police forces sruveryed and most found offender profiler advice useful, it only lead to accurate identification of 3% of cases. Criticises effectiveness, public left at risk
  • Expensive and specialist training: equipment and technique reuquired. Isnt economical, is time consuming and not enough police trained to use it, also training distracts from protection
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Biological Explanations:

Atavistic form:

  • Offenders are genetic throwbacks of primitive species illsuited to the rules of modern society
  • Distinguishable by particular cranial and facial characteristics
  • Criminals - strong prominent jaw, high cheekbones, dark skin, extra toes or fingers
  • Murderers - bloodshot eyes, curly hair, long ears
  • Sexual deviant - glinting eyes, fleshy lips
  • Fraudster - thin lips
  • Non physical: unemployment, tattoos, criminal slang, uncivilised manner
  • Kray twins example: long ears, glinting eyes, fleshy lips, prominent jaw, high cheekbones
  • Lombroso findings: investigated facial and cranial features of hundreds of Italian convicts, 40% of crimes were accounted for by atavistic features
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Atavistic Form Evaluation


  • Impact on criminal psychology - father of criminology, shifts crime research away rom moralistic discourse (weak minded) and more scientific objective claims
  • Introduced profiling - particular types of people being more likely to commit crimes eg curly hair and bloodshot eyes more likely to murder - great contribution
  • Application - used in new research but not been peer reviewed yet, created a programmme that can accurately detect face of a criminal 89% accurate - still questionable


  • Ethnocentric - Italian convicts, different ethnic background = different features eg UK paler skin, straighter hair, unrepresentative of other ethnicities
  • Outdated - 1870s we know the importance of environmental and psychological factors now due to scientific developments which are more objective in studying behaviour eg brain scan
  • Criticism research - De Lisi found tailered to African descent, racism eg primitive
  • Contradicting research - Goring: compared 3000 criminals with 300 non criminals, no evidence of facial characteristics being distinct to criminal group
  • Causation issues - drug abuse can physically affect body or nutrition, non physical factors can also affect eg lack of reinforcement, invalid explanation because limited
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