There are three methods used to gain a more accurate understanding of crimes: police-recorded statistics, victim surveys and self-report studies.
They are drawn from the records kept by police and other official agencies and are published every six months. They have been collected since 1857 and so provide us with a historical overview of changing trends over time.
They are social constructions and so cannot be taken at face value because they only show crimes that were reported to and recorded by the police. However, a high proportion of crimes are not reported and so there are flaws to the reports. Also, even when crimes are reported, only 43% of them are included in official statistics. This suggests that the police are filtering the information supplied to them by the public based on the following factors:
- Seriousness: they may regard the offence as too trivial or simply not a criminal matter
- Social status: they may view the social status of the person reporting the crime as being too low to pursue.
- Classifying: how they classify an offence will determine its seriousness.
- Discretion: only 10% of offences are discovered by the police. Anderson et al (1994) found that the demeanour of the suspect influenced their chances of being arrested - youths who are respectful and polite are less likely to be arrested.
- Promotion: they may have concerns about trying to impress senior officers. Arrests reflect this desire to succeed (collision 1995)
Official statistics also reflect the decisions and sentencing of the courts. British courts work on the assumption that many people will plead guilty and 75% do. This is also the result of an informal and largely unspoken agreement where the defence will try to get the lightest punishment possible by being honest. However, these pleas are usually for less serious crimes that what may have actually have been committed.
Also, what is considered to be a crime changes overtime as laws are altered in response to cultural changes and the influence of powerful groups.
In these a sample of the population (can be local or national) is asked what offences have…