Data on Crime

Many countries have reputations for being more or less 'safe' than others, in terms of the level of crime that takes place within them. 

Data on Crime Data on Crime

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Table of contents

    However, sociologists are not always convinced by these statistics and seek to question where they come from, who collects them, and how. They even go so far as to evaluate how crime is defined and observed by different people, as this can also impact what is and isn't counted in official statistics.

    Let's examine the topic of data on crime.

    • In this explanation, we'll be exploring the main sources of data on crime in sociology, as well as data on crime in the UK.
    • We'll discuss the key difference between crime statistics and crime rates.
    • We will identify the strengths and limitations of each source of data for their accuracy in representing the prevalence of crime.
    • Finally, we will briefly consider the use of police statistics on crime, to be explored in more depth in a separate explanation on StudySmarter!

    What is data on crime in sociology?

    To analyse and consider the significance of data on crime in sociology, we first need to understand what we mean by 'data' and what we mean by 'crime'.

    Data

    Data on Crime, data generation with code on computer screen, StudySmarterFig 1. Data are sources of knowledge or information.

    According to Merriam-Webster, data are...

    ... factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.

    Data need to be gathered or generated and they come in many different forms. Examples of sociological data include:

    Data are often described as sources of knowledge.

    Crime

    As is the case with many other topics, 'crime' is an incredibly loaded concept in sociology. While there are many different definitions of the word, generally an act is considered a crime if it breaks the law and is formally punishable by the state.

    Crime is often considered in tandem with deviance, which is an act that goes against the norms, values and conventions of a group, but is not necessarily 'illegal'. An example of a deviant act is interrupting someone while they are talking.

    Data on crime

    Considering these two concepts together, it's relatively straightforward to gauge what 'data on crime' is.

    Data on crime (sometimes also called criminal data, criminal statistics or crime statistics) are information about the amount and types of crime that take place in society. These are often separated by country and are collected year by year to make inferences about patterns of crime across places and times. A key difference to take note of when studying data on crime is the difference between 'rates' and 'statistics'.

    Data on crime: statistics

    Crime statistics are numerical data which demonstrate the prevalence of crime in a certain place or at a certain time. Statistics can be displayed in many different forms, with one of the most common ways being the raw data which demonstrates the number of crimes committed.

    For example, 5.8 million crimes were recorded by police in England and Wales in the year between September 2020 and 2021.

    Data on crime: rates

    As is the case with other demographic measures (such as birth rates and death rates), crime rates are calculated by identifying the number of crimes committed per 1000 members of a given population.

    For instance, the crime rate in 2021-2022 in the UK was 79.52 per 1,000 people. Crime rates may be considered a form of crime statistics.

    Let's take a look at how data on crime are collected.

    What are the main sources of data on crime in the UK?

    Data on Crime, laptop, notebook, graphs and charts on paper, StudySmarterFig 2. The two main primary sources of data on crime are victim surveys and self-report studies.

    Data on crime: victimisation

    Victim surveys ask respondents about their experiences with crime.

    A well-known victim survey that is conducted on a large scale is the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). Here are some quick facts about the CSEW:

    • It is conducted every year.

    • It usually has a sample of around 35,000 households in Wales and England.

    • The sample consists of people aged 16 and over, with another 3000 supplemental responses from 10-15-year-olds.

    • People are interviewed by trained professionals in their homes, who deliver a questionnaire using a laptop.

    The survey asks the sample whether they have experienced any crime over the past year, as well as:

    • what kind of crimes they have experienced (such as theft or violence)
    • whether they reported it to the police, and
    • their views on issues related to crime (such as the legal system).

    Evaluation of victim surveys

    As a common and important source of information on crime, we need to consider whether victim surveys generate data that are helpful and accurate.

    Strengths of victim surveysLimitations of victim surveys
    • By asking about people's experience of crime, they also consider crimes that have been reported to the police (which may not be included in official statistics).
    • As a relatively accurate overview of the level and types of crimes being experienced, victim surveys can help inform more targeted and effective crime prevention strategies.
    • Victim surveys fail to consider crimes that cannot be 'experienced' or 'reported'. Examples of these include:
      • victimless crimes (such as the use of illegal drugs), and
      • murders (where the victim has passed away and, of course, cannot report).
    • The sample could misremember or lie about crimes they have (or haven't) experienced or reported.

    Data on crime: offending

    Self-report studies are common across many different research initiatives in the social sciences. Unlike victim surveys, self-report studies on crime ask members of households about offences that they have committed.

    Between 2003 and 2006, the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey (OCJS) was conducted to study self-reported offences, as well as the prevalence of drug use and anti-social behaviour in Wales and England. While the survey sought respondents of a variety of ages, the study had a particular focus on youth between the ages of 10 and 15.

    Evaluation of self-report studies

    Strengths of self-report studiesLimitations of self-report studies
    • Self-report surveys cover crimes that may not have been reported to - or those that are not ordinarily handled by - the police.
    • Offender surveys can also provide insight into how criminals perceive their crime, as well as how they may explain or justify it.
    • Similarly to the CSEW, interviewing respondents in households neglects potential responses from homeless people or those in other types of housing (such as care homes or student accommodations).
    • Offenders may not want to report crimes that they have committed, and so they may lie about having committed those crimes, or about whether or not they have been convicted by the police.

    Police statistics

    Data on Crime, police siren and light on car, StudySmarterFig 3. Because police statistics inform many crime prevention and punishment policies, they must be accurate.

    Police statistics are another significant source of information on crime in the UK. As sociologists, we should question the utility and accuracy of these data.

    Many researchers question the utility of police statistics on crime because:

    • many crimes go unwitnessed and are therefore not considered in official statistics

    • less serious offences often go unnoticed or unreported

    • victims don't report crimes that they feel will be poorly handled

    • victims don't report crimes because they are afraid of the consequences of doing so

    • there is not enough evidence to reach a verdict about the criminal act.

    It is also worth considering the social construction of crime and crime statistics. This means asking questions about certain people (such as witnesses, judges, police officers and criminals) and how they make sense of crime.

    This investigation can provide insights regarding which crimes are focused on and which are ignored by the criminal justice system, as well as why some crimes may be committed more than others.

    Data on Crime - Key takeaways

    • Data on crime are information about the prevalence and types of crime that take place in society.
    • Statistics on crime are often presented as raw data, whereas crime rates are presented as the number of crimes per 1000 members of a particular group (usually countries or cities).
    • Victim surveys are a measure of victimisation that gauge people's experiences with crimes over a year.
    • Self-report or offending surveys involve interviewing offenders about committed offences, with a particular focus on anti-social behaviour and drug use by young people.
    • Police statistics are a point of contention in sociology, as their utility and accuracy are often scrutinised for neglecting certain crimes.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Data on Crime

    What are the three basic sources of data on crime? 

    The three basic sources of crime are victim surveys, self-report surveys and police statistics.

    What is the number one reason for crime? 

    Sociologists from different perspectives suggest different reasons for the existence of crime. For instance, some Marxists argue that the exploitation and deprivation which the working class experiences drives them to commit crimes for material gain. Basically, there is no one answer as to why crime exists! 

    What can statistics tell us about crime? 

    Crime statistics can tell us a lot about how often crime is committed and which types of crimes take place in certain places or at certain points in time. Statistics can also provide insight into who commits crimes and who is victimised, as well as how crimes are handled by the criminal justice system.

    Why do we collect crime statistics? 

    There are many reasons as to why crime statistics are a valuable source of information. The simplest explanation for why we collect crime statistics is that it helps us identify patterns and trends in crime between different places and periods of time.

    What are some methods of collecting crime data? 

    There are many ways to collect data on crime, including victim surveys, offender studies and incarceration statistics.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The Crime Survey for England and Wales has a sample of around ______ households per year. 

    The Crime Survey for England and Wales asks respondents about crimes that they have committed. True or false?

    The Offending, Crime and Justice Survey was conducted annually in the UK between ____ and ____.

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