British Crime Survey (BCS) - Face-to-face survey targeting 46,000 people using face-to-face structured interviews with a sample of epople aged 16 and over living in private households in England and Wales. 22 trained interviewers use laptops to record the responses of the participants.
+ Provides a reliable reflection of the actual extent of household and personal crime.
+ Structured interviews offer greater oppotunity for reliable data as both questions and responses are standardised and the interviews are piloted in advance.
- It does not cover commercial victimisation such as thefts from businesses and shops, and fraud.
- It does not cover crimes against children, although it will in future years.
Islington Crime Survey (ICS) - Conducted by Left Realist sociologists Lea and Young, using sympathetic unstructured interview techniques. They asked victims living in inner London about serious crime such as sexual assault and domestic violence that had happened in the previous 12 months. It found that crime shaped peoples lives to a considerable degree, a quarter of people avoided going out after dark because of fear of crime, 28% felt unsafe in their own homes.
Feminist victim surveys - Produce qualitative data on female victim and male crimes, most notably domestic violence and sexual attacks in which the main perpatrators are male. Feminists are criticial of structured interviews as the researcher takes an active role when asking questions, they also give a distored and invalid picture of women's experience.
Official Crime Statistics - Social construction
Secondary data that is published quarterly and include crimes recorded by the police, and data from the government-sponsored victim survey - The British Crime survey.
Interpretivist sociologists argue that the OCS are of limited usefulness and are in fact a social construction. They tell us more about the social groups involved in their collection - the public, victims, mass media, police and courts - than they tell us about crime and criminals. Sociologists have long argued that a dark figure exists of unrecorded crime. A reason for this dark figure crime is that some criminal offences are not included in the OCS, such as tax, VAT and fraud or health and safety infringements. These offences are more likely to be committed by individuals who are wealthy and powerful.
+ Easy and cheap to access - involve little effort on behalf of the sociologist
+ Can easily be checked and verified in order to be regarded highly reliable
- May not present a complete picture (e.g. the government does not collect statistics relating to the socio-economic background or employment status of people arrested, prosecuted or convicted and sent to prison).
- Socially constructed (i.e. they are the end result of the decision to record a certain set of activities, so statistics must be collected) - this is the most important weakness.
Official Crime Statistics - The general public
Andy Pilkington argues that the OCS may not be useful because these statistics only tell us about the increasing reporting of particular crimes by the general public, and victims of crime, rather than actual increases in crime itself. For example:
- The general public has grown more intolerant of property crime as people have become more prosperous and materialistic. This has led to a greater public willingness to report theft and burglary. Increased affluence has also led to more people taking out insurance, which encourages reporting of property crime and criminal damage by victims.
- The OCS for some juvenile crime may simply reflect public intolerance, fuelled by journalists construction of moral panics in search of newsworthy stories - those guaranteed to sell newspapers or attract large television audiences. Moral panics increase the profile of the folk devils - groups regarded as a bad influence on society - so that the general public is more likely to recognise the problem and report it. This puts the police under pressure to curb the problem, which may lead to more arrests and prosecutions. The government may pass new laws in order to control the so-called problem. The folk devil group may react by becoming more confrontational and criminal. In other words, the moral panic leads to deviancy amplification - an artificial rise in crime statistics.
Official Crime Statistics - The police
Interpretivists argue that the OCS tell us more about the nature of police in the UK than about crime and criminality. Interpretivists question the validity of the question of criminality that the OCS provide. They suggest that young, working class and African-Carribean people frequently appear in these statistics because they are profiled and targeted by the police rather than because they are more criminal. This can be illustrated in several ways:
- Studies of police officers on patrol conducted by Smith, Grey and Cicourel indicate that they operate using stereotypical assumptions or labels about what constitutes 'suspicious' or 'criminal' behaviour, that is the decision to stop or arrest someone may be based on whether they correspond to a stereotype.
- Feminist criminologists argue that male officers tend to adopt paternalistic attitudes towards female offenders, who are less likely to be stopped, arrested and charged. For example, when caught committing criminal offences, they are more likely to be cautioned than arrested or charged. Pollack calls this the chivalry factor. According to Ministry of Justice statistics in 2007, 49% of female offenders received a caution. Only 30% of male offender received the same. Research also indicates that police culture is very masculine and interaction with men or ethnic minorities may be shaped by a need to be seen by other officers as being tough.
Official Crime Statistics - The courts
There is evidence that juries and judges also engage in stereotyping. It has been found that middle-class offenders and women are much more likely to be found not guilty by juries. When they are found guilty they are treated more leniently by an upper-class male-dominated judiciary. Hood's observations of criminal courts found that even when black youths were up for the same offence as white youths, they were 17% more likely to get a prison sentence. The OCS may therefore tell us more about judicial attitudes than about crime and criminality.
Marxists are very critical of the OCS. They suggest that capitalist state collects and constructs crime statistics in order to serve the interests of the ruling class. The statistics serve an ideological function; whoever has the power to collect and construct such statistics has the power to control and manipulate public opinion. Marxists argue that the ideological function of the OCS is to criminalise groups such as the young, working class and Afro-Carribean's. This divides and rules the working class by diverting white conformist working-class attention away from class inequalities.
Box argues that OCS divert attention away from white-collar crime and corporate crime. Crimes committed by the powerful are not punished as harshly as working-class crimes. The powerful engage in anti-social activities, which result in death, injury and theft for ordinary people but are often not defined as criminal as the ruling class constructs laws to reflect their own interests.
A self-report is a questionnaire which attempts to uncover the true amount of crime within society. It lists a number of petty crimes and asks respondents to tick those they have successfully committed without being caught. To improve validity, the questionnaires stress confidentiality and anonymity.
Ian Marsh notes that validity is undermined by under-reporting and over-reporting. People may under-report because self-report studies are retrospective and depend on respondants remembering crimes committed 12 months before. Some people exaggerate offences to create a 'tough' impression. Others keep quiet, fearing that the police will be informed. The representativeness of self-report questionnaires is questioned for three reasons:
1. It is impossible to include all criminal acts in a questionnaire. This means the researcher must be selective, which raises problems as to which offences are included or not.
2. Self-reports are distributed mainly to young people - it would be difficult to get businessmen to cooperate and admit to white-collar crime or corporate crime.
3. Junger-Tas (1989) reports a sliding scale of responses to self-report questionnaires, depending on how much contact respondents have had with the criminal justice system. Response rates from individuals with a criminal record were lower than those without.