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Outline and assess the usefulness of official statistics in measuring crime Essay

Sociology: Outline and assess the usefulness of official statistics in measuring crime. Crime is basically any sort of behaviour or an act which breaks laws of a society and is punished by the legal system. What is considered criminal or deviant is culturally determined. This means that what is considered criminal or deviant changes with time and place, as the values, norms and expectations change. What may not be acceptable in one society at a particular time may be acceptable in another country or acceptable at another time, for example drug cafes in Amsterdam.

Police Crime Figures have been recorded and published annually by the Home Office since the year 1857. Crime statistics are compiled in the basis of “offences notified to the police”. In this respect, they provide evidence of crimes that are known to the police and officially recorded by the police. Official statistics are useful in measuring crime because they allow us to spot trends and patterns in the crime rates and the social background of criminals/victims (quantative data).

Also, these statistics help inform government policy. Theories like functionalism have used official statistics to develop theories to explain patterns in the official statistics. Durkheim used statistics to measure suicide rates, a form of deviance between societies and groups and developed theories about suicide. Others, like Merton assumed that the statistics were valid and reliable and went on to develop explanations about working-class criminality.

Many people now turn to victim Surveys such as the British Crime Survey (BCS) as more reliable sources of information. Victim Surveys are so called because they ask a sample of the population what crimes they have been a victim in the previous 12 months. This increases validity as they include all crimes that people have been a victim of, regardless of whether or not they reported the crime to the police. A number of crimes are not covered by the survey. These include crimes against business, crimes where there is no direct victim, such as possession of drugs, crimes against victims under 16 and crimes that have involved death.

Another source of survey data on crime and deviance is self-report studies, where people are asked if they have committed any crime. Self-report studies are similar to victim surveys except that they ask respondents to admit to crimes they have committed. This type of survey data are less widely used than BCS, but are also anonymous and representative of the population.

Steven Box, a Marxist, analysed 40 self-report studies and concluded that juvenile crime was not a working-class problem but rather that the middle-class were less likely to get caught. I believe respondents may not tell the truth because they may feel embarrassed, may exaggerate or they may have forgotten the offence.

To conclude, I believe the official statistics are very useful to us as they help to inform us about the rates of crime as well as government policy. They are annually published and anyone with internet access can view/download the data. These statistics cover a large part of the population and as they are collected by the state they are seen to have a great deal of validity.

They can easily be compared to the previous statistics and their quantative nature allows trends and patterns to be established. The ability to go back and check the findings means that the data are reliable. However, there are some disadvantages of official statistics. It is reported Official Crime Statistics only show 30% of crimes committed.

The other 70% is described as the “Hidden Figure of Crime”. Official crime statistics only show crime known to the police. In other words, not all crime is reported to the police. This may be because people may be reluctant to report a criminal incident if they do not have faith in the police to investigate and solve the crime. Another reason may be because they are scared, they could have been threatened by the criminal. Interactionism have a negative view on official statistics, they believe it as being of little worth. Cicourel stated that police are more likely to suspect and arrest some people than other due to labelling.

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