Type: Response Essays
Sample donated: Sarah Brewer
Last updated: May 24, 2019
Official statistics oncrimes committed in Britain are published annually by theGovernment. The main source of these statistics are gathered fromcrimes which are recorded by the police, courts and the British CrimeSurvey (BCS), which is a large-scale survey carried out by theHome Office every year. Combining these statistics reveals an idea of the fullextent of crime throughout Britain today, however, sociologistsbelieve there are numerous factors which impact these figures and thatthese official statistics, do not reveal a true representation of theactual crimes committed throughout the year. From the functionalistperception, Emile Durkheim stated that deviance is a necessary part of allsocieties and that police and the courts are necessary to keep deviance incheck and to protect social order. Durkheim argued that crime is an unavoidablepart of society and that all social change begins with some form of devianceand a limited amount of crime is necessary and beneficial to society. She alsostates that society could not exist without some form of deviance as it marksthe boundaries of society (Haralambos and Holborn 2000).
Thisessay will consider these factors and perspectives to assess how accurategathered statistics are and to also relate them with issues concerned withsocial diversity. The most fundamental restraintof official crime statistics, is that they only include crimes actuallyrecorded by the police which make ‘official statistics’ inaccurate as manycrimes go unrecorded or unreported. Theft of a vehicle has a high volume ofcrimes reported and recorded as in order for a claim against insurance to beprocessed, it has to be reported to and recorded by the police. The same appliesto a burglary in which property has been taken as opposed to victims of anassault or vandalism who will often not report the crime. This could be due tofear of retaliation from the perpetrator, a mistrust of the police or they mayeven feel that the police will not see it as serious enough to record it. Somecrimes are also referred to as a civil matter, meaning individuals involvedshould settle the issue between themselves. These offences not captured inofficial statistics are referred to as the ‘dark figure’ or ‘the icebergeffect’ of unrecorded crime (Abercrombie et al, 2000). The British Crime Survey,which involves delivering a survey to a large number of properties throughoutall areas in the UK, questioning occupants over the age of 16 whether they havebeen a victim or involved in a crime, and whether or not they had reported andrecorded it.
This brought forward many discrepancies when considering theOfficial Statistics (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Compared to previousyears, there has been a decrease in unreported Domestic Abuse complaints, asmore crimes are being reported to the police. This could be due to improvementsin crime recording by the police and also the police have improved training ontheir ability to identify offences and domestic abuse related incidents, therefore,more victims are coming forward to report crimes as they may feel more trustand reassurance that they can be helped (Flatley, 2017). Technical aspects also impactofficial statistics and affect how offences and offenders are calculated.Several crimes may be committed in one incident however only the most seriouscrime is counted or in cases where there is a continuous series of offencessuch as using a stolen credit card or debit card several times, only oneoffence is actually counted resulting in inaccurate over-all results. (Colemanand Moynihan 1996). The survey also found thateven though a crime had been reported, the police did not always record theoffence in the same category as the British Crime Survey or that the police didnot record the crime, either because they felt it was too trivial or that therewasn’t enough evidence to proceed and get a conviction.
There is also aquestion on how the police themselves perceive the seriousness of a crime andhow they had the right to use their own discretion over how they dealt withoffences. Sometimes minor offences were neglected, perhaps to avoid extrapaperwork or that even arrests were made in order to return to the policestation and get out of unpleasant weather conditions. Although the British CrimeSurvey gives a clearer assessment of crime statistics through victim surveysthere are some crimes that people maybe hesitant or even reluctant toadmit to. Feminists argue that where sexual abuse or domestic violence occurswomen are very reluctant to admit to being a victim of these crimes and evenless to reporting it because of social attitudes. Those that do have thecourage to report a sexual attack then have to relive the experience to a maledominated police force and judicial system. There are also instances wherethe individual doesn’t realize that they have been a victim of a crime.
Forinstance, with corporate crime or fraudulent transactions from their bankaccount and so these types of crimes go largely unreported. It also depends onthe victim perceiving what happens to them as being a crime in the case of ayoung child being molested or abused. The media play a key role in this as theyprovide illustrations of crimes and generally heighten sensitivity towardscertain forms of behavior. By giving greater importance in their reportingon certain crimes the media create what is termed a ‘moral panic’.For instance if an elderly person or female is the victim of aviolent attack, in their reporting they create a fear that these groups aremore at risk when in fact young males feature far more in crime statistics asvictims of assault and robbery. The judicial system alsocontributes to the official statistics but even these figures should be open toquestion as the practice of plea-bargaining often takes place in the courts.Sometimes it is negotiated with the accused in that they are offered apossibility of a lesser sentence if they plead guilty so the true crime is notrecorded.
Page 374 Haralambos and Holborn 2000 The BCS is a cross sectionalsurvey and doesn’t contain information about crime in different areas ofBritain. This has resulted in Local Crime Surveys (LCS) being conducted inparticular areas to identify unequal distribution of crime. These surveys are alot more detailed than the BCS and uncovered crime not reported in the BCS. Onewell known survey is the Islington Crime Survey (1986 and 1995). These showedthat the BCS under reported the higher levels of victimization of ethnicminority groups and domestic violence. Croall 1998 The Interactionist discardsthe accuracy of crime statistics and instead focuses on understanding the waythey are socially constructed. Official statistics are often influenced orsocially constructed by those compiling the statistics. This can be seen by theperception that ethnic minorities are perceived to be responsible for a highincidence of crime but the police often target areas where large numbers ofethnic minorities live.
This victimization of ethnicminorities through police discrimination and racism is an important element inthe assessment of official statistics. This can be seen from figures issued bythe Home Office in June 2000 where there was an over representation of ethnicminorities in prisons in Britain and where 19% of the male prison populationwere ethnic minorities against their representation of the overall Britishpopulation which was only 5.5%. Statistics supplied by the Race and CriminalJustice system www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase accessed 06March 2006 Howard S.
Becker examined theeffects upon an individual of being labeled as deviant. Police oftenhave a bias against working class delinquent and they will often targetlow-income estates as it is perceived more crime is committed in an underprivileged area. If a fight involving young people breaks out the police seethis as evidence of delinquency yet, if the same incident happens in a middleor upper income area it is seen as evidence of youthful high spirits and theseyoungsters are normally let off with a warning. Page373 Haralambos and Holborn 2000 Once a youth is labelled as adelinquent he or she is stigmatised and labelled as a criminal and then thislabel becomes the person’s primary identity and can lead to a continuation ofdeviant or criminal behaviour. This is known as the labelling theory.
Page 210 A Giddens 2001 Marxist perspective believesthat the law and it’s agents, being the police, courts and thejudicial system protect the interests of the ruling class and that a crimes bythe poor are strictly adhered to but crimes by the more affluent of our societyare ignored. This can be reflected in the under reporting of what is known aswhite-collar crime. White collar crime or corporate crime is usually associatedwith wealthy and powerful offenders and usually involves financial fraud, taxevasion or embezzlement such as the Maxwell pensions debacle but it can also beassociated with breaches of health, safety or environmental law.
Many of thesecrimes go unpunished and therefore under reported because of the vast range ofenforcement agencies used to monitor these areas. A large number are alsosettled out of court as it is felt punishment has already been inflicted by theoffender losing his job and being subjected to shame from his family andcommunity. Also fraudulent crimes are normally at a corporate leveland don’t affect an individual as such so many remain invisible. page 272Hazel Croall 1998 The Left Realists believeofficial statistics cannot be simply rejected but used in conjunction withself-report studies to give a more balanced view of crime. Self-report studiesattempt to persuade people to confess to offences they have committed but whichmay not be known to the police and therefore go largely unreported.
They can beuseful in their detail of these ‘offenders’ by giving us their ages, gender andsocial class but the disadvantages are in their validity in that some peoplemay not be open to admit they have committed a crime, have been a victim orthey may even exaggerate or be mistaken about their crimes. We should alsoquestion the problem of representativeness with self report studiesas most are on young people and students and not on a fair cross section of thepopulation. The role of the governmentwhere laws are changed in response to cultural changes can have an impact onthe crime statistics. What was considered to be a crime changes over time as aresult of governments changing the law in response to cultural changes and theinfluence of powerful groups. For instance attitudes have changed tothe use and possession of Cannabis and it’s deregulation to type C so there hasbeen a decline in arrests due to the police response to public opinion.
Theofficial statistics make it look as though it’s declining in use when in actualfact it is not. Despite these criticisms,official statistics on crime are still a useful resource as long as they areused critically. They have been collected since 1857 and so can provide us witha historical overview of changing trends over time. They are cheap and easilyavailable and they give us the ability to assess change over a period of timeand they consist of a large number of cases. If they are combined with otherstatistics from self-report and victim surveys the sociologist can be given aclearer picture of the extent of crime in Britain. As with all surveys theymust be assessed critically to ensure their validity and that they represent across section of people and give a balanced representative picture.