The Official Crimes Statistics

02 Nov 2017

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Official crime statistics (OCS) are crimes which are recorded by the police and which they choose to investigate. There are two types of crime statistics, officially recorded crime and Crime Survey of England and Wales. Recorded crimes can provide information on trends in crime, are an important indicator of the police workload and can be used for studying local crime patterns. The Crime Survey of England and Wales is a victims’ survey and is believed to provide a better reflection of the true magnitude of crime because it includes crimes that are not reported. The main drawback with both of these sources however, is that they do not show the true extent of crime. This is known as the dark figure of crime or ‘Iceberg Theory’ – ‘tip of the iceberg’ (unknown or unreported crime).

Marxist would argue that the law is not applied equally to all social groups as white collar crime seems to be treated with greater leniency even though the damage to society, the environment and loss of tax revenue to the state is much greater than crimes committed by the working class such as benefit fraud. White Collar crime includes acts such as occupational crime; which refers to crimes committed by executives such as fraud, e.g. electronic embezzlement and corporate crime which refers to crimes performed by businesses or corporations such as breaking health and safety protocols or tax evasion. This type of crime is secretive and more difficult to detect than other crimes because it is victimless. If these are under-recorded then the OCS are clearly going to be inaccurate.

Furthermore, Marxists believe that police exercise discretion mostly on behalf of middle class offenders. This is because the behaviour of the middle class is more likely not to be seen as a crime or less of a threat. Middle class offenders may also have contacts within the police or criminal justice system or share membership within exclusive clubs and are then treated with leniency. This gives the police the authority to create their own view of the priority or seriousness of crimes before reporting it. Marxists would argue that there is a distinctive class bias, where the wealthy are able to pull strings and escape prosecution or that the police turn a blind eye to their crimes. For example, Former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Mandleson gained a mortgage by making a false declaration of his earnings (i.e. committed fraud) and was not convicted for this crime (Henderson, 2011). This shows a classic example of the discretion and leniency between the police and white collar criminals. Chambliss has written and demonstrated that he supports the view on class bias in the criminal justice system. He found that police were more suspicious of working class gangs and more likely to arrest them when middle class gangs committed more serious offences, which police viewed as pranks. Occasionally a wealthy criminal is prosecuted to create the impression of a fair and effective system of justice, e.g. MP’s expenses scandal (The Telegraph, 2013).

So are the OCS accurate and how useful are they? Positivists studied society with a macro approach and regarded the OCS as having many advantages, although they are not accurate, they still provide substantial and practical benefits. For example allowing sociologists to identify trends and patterns of behaviour and encouraging them to hypothesis about the possible causes of crimes.

Interactionists such as Becker believe that the OCS are not factual or accurate, but they are a social construction, the result of a social process, involving social actors or agents of social control. OCS suggests that crime is committed by mostly the working class but Interactionists believe that this suggestion is misleading and actually misrepresent who the criminals are. The agents of social control have the exclusive power to perceive, label and define behaviour as ‘criminal’ or not, whereas the poor and vulnerable have no such power.

Reasons for inaccuracy within the OCS can be because of many factors, such as lack of public confidence in the police, fear of intimidation, not wanting to get involved, humiliation and fear through sexual crimes or domestic violence. There are also unreported crimes because people do not realise that they have been a victim, such as children or vulnerable and older people. In some areas, community policing is used by the ‘local hard men’, which affects the visibility of crime from the police as it is not reported. Although there is still a lack in public confidence in the police in some areas, there is also a declining stigma. There has been an increase in reported crimes because society is now reporting crimes that before now would not have been reported, such as sexual assault and child abuse. Though there are more crimes reported, this does not mean there are more crimes taking place. There has also been a personal advantage for society to report crimes to make insurance claims accessible.

Inaccuracy in the OCS is also caused by the police because of increased technology, DNA, databases, cameras, traffic cops and mobile phones. The increase of technology leads to more detection, implying that crime today is at about the same level as it was forty years ago but there has been an increase in detection due to technology. Marxists would argue that police also use the mass media to their advantage causing deviance amplification, exaggerating the crimes of the working class, by providing a scapegoat for the ruling class. This enables them to not only divide the working class buy turning them against one another but also justifying more social control through more repressive legislation.

Official statistics do not give an accurate reading on crime, therefore survey methods such as victimisation studies and self-report studies are used to gather crime statistics that are not reported. Self-report studies ask people what crimes they have committed, but they still face validity problems due to some respondents lying. Victimisation studies ask people if they have been a victim of crime and if they had reported it to the police. These studies show the crimes known to the police (CKP) index to be unreliable.

Supporting the Interactionists theory, official crime statistics do not provide an accurate measurement of crime within UK society because they lack validity, the reason for this is that the crime is socially constructed. They do not show the full extent of crime, telling us more about the process of construction than about the crime itself.

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