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Alt 04-11-2008, 20:55   #1
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Standart Measurement Of Crime


Estimating the amount of crime actually committed has troubled criminologists for many years; the figures for recorded crime do not give an accurate picture because they are influenced by variable factors such as the willingness of victims to report crimes. It is widely believed that only a small fraction of the crime actually committed is reported to authorities. For this reason the criminal who is detected is not necessarily representative of all those who commit crime, and thus attempts to explain the causes of crime by reference to those who are identified as criminals must be approached with caution.

The public's view of the frequency and gravity of crime, obtained largely from the news media, may be seriously distorted, as the media tend to concentrate on serious or sensational crimes and often fail to give a full and accurate picture of what has happened. A brief report of a case in court, for instance, inevitably is selective; much of the evidence that the court has heard is omitted. A more detached view may be provided by detailed statistics of crime compiled and published by a department of
government--in the United States, for instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes an annual, the Uniform Crime Reports, and in England the Home Office produces each year a volume entitled Criminal Statistics, England and Wales, which (among other things) gives an account of the trends in different types of crime. Official statistics such as these are frequently used by policymakers as the basis for new procedures in crime control--they may show, for instance, that there has been an increase in the incidence of a particular type of crime over a period of years and suggest, therefore, that some change in the methods of dealing with that type of crime is necessary. In fact, many official statistics of crime are subject to serious error and may be almost as misleading as the general impressions formed by the public through the news media, particularly if they are used without an understanding of the processes by which they are compiled and the limitations to which they are necessarily subject. The statistics are usually compiled on the basis of reports from police forces and other law enforcement agencies and are generally known as statistics of reported crime, or crimes known to the police. Because only incidents observed by the police or reported to them by victims or witnesses are included in the reports, the picture of the amount of crime actually committed may be distorted. One factor accounting for this distortion is the extent to which police resources are allocated to the investigation of one kind of crime rather than another, particularly with regard to what are known as "victimless crimes," such as possession of . These crimes are not discovered unless the police set out to look for them, and they do not figure in the statistics of reported crime unless the police take the initiative; thus, a sudden increase in the reported incidence of a crime from one year to the next may merely show that the police have taken more interest in that crime and devoted more resources to its investigation. Ironically, efforts to discourage or eliminate a particular kind of crime through more vigorous law enforcement may create the impression that the crime concerned has increased rather than decreased, because more instances are detected and thus enter the statistics.

A second factor that can have a striking effect on the apparent statistical incidence of a particular kind of crime is a change in the willingness of victims of the crime to report it to the police. It is believed by most criminologists, on the basis of research, that the crime reported to the police amounts to only a small proportion of the crime actually committed. Estimates of the so-called dark figure (the number of unreported crimes) vary, but it is thought that in some cases the reported crimes may constitute less than 10 percent of those actually committed. Victims of crimes have many reasons for not reporting them: they may not realize that a crime has been committed against them (children who have been ually molested, for instance); they may believe that the police will not be able to detect the offender; they may be afraid of involvement in the processes of the law as witnesses; they may be embarrassed by their own conduct that has led them to become the victim of the crime (a man robbed by a , for instance, or a person who has been the victim of a confidence trick as a result of his own greed or credulity). A particular type of crime may not appear sufficiently serious to make it worthwhile to inform the police, or there may be ways in which the matter can be resolved without involving them--an act of by one schoolchild against another may be dealt with by the school authorities, or a dishonest employee may be dismissed without prosecution. All of these factors are difficult to measure with any degree of accuracy, and there is no reason to suppose that they remain constant over a period of time. Thus, a change in any one of these factors may produce the appearance of an increase or a decrease in a particular kind of crime, when in fact there has been no such change, or the real change has been on a much smaller scale than the statistics suggest.

A third factor that may affect the picture of crime presented by official statistics is the way in which the police treat particular incidents. Many of the laws defining crimes are imprecise or ambiguous--concepts such as reckless driving, obscenity, and gross negligence may leave a great deal to interpretation. The result may be that conduct which is treated as a crime in one police district, and thus appears as such in statistics, may not be treated as the same crime in another, because the law is interpreted in a different manner. Another practice that may have the same result is the way in which a particular incident is broken down into different crimes. The theft of a number of items may be recorded as a single theft of all of them or as a series of thefts of the individual items.

Criminologists have for many years endeavoured to obtain a more accurate picture of the incidence of crimes and the trends and variations from one period to another. Two research methods have usually been employed--the victim survey and the self-report study. The victim survey requires the researcher to identify a sample of the population at risk of becoming victims of the kind of crime in which the researcher is interested, or of crimes generally, and to ask them to disclose any crime of which they have been victims during the period specified in the research. The information obtained from the survey, after a large number of people have been questioned, is compared with the statistics for reported crime for the same period and locality, giving an indication of the relationship between the actual incidence of the type of crime in question and the number of cases of that type reported to the police. Although criminologists have developed sophisticated procedures for interviewing victim populations, such projects are subject to a number of limitations. Results depend entirely on the victim's recollection of the incidents, his ability to recognize that a crime has been committed, and his willingness to disclose it. The method can be applied only to crimes that have victims; it does not help to identify the incidence of victimless crimes. Research of this kind, however, undertaken with an awareness of the limitations of the process, undoubtedly extends knowledge of the actual incidence of particular types of crime and, if it is carried on over a period of years, may provide a clearer picture of trends in crime than official statistics. One major survey of this kind, the British Crime Survey, is expected to last for many years and, as it obtains information from a very large sample of households, may be more representative than smaller ones.

An alternative approach favoured by some criminologists is the self-report study, in which a sample of the general population is asked, under assurances of confidentiality, if they have committed any offenses of a particular kind. This type of research is subject to the same difficulty as the victim survey--the researcher has no means of verifying the information given to him, and the subject can easily conceal the fact that he has committed an offense at some time--but surveys of this kind have often confirmed that large numbers of offenses have been committed without being reported and that crime is much more widespread than official statistics suggest.
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