Police Crime Statistics

How accurate are the crime statistics collected by the police?

Police Crime Statistics Police Crime Statistics

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Table of contents

    Police statistics on crime refers to the official yearly documents published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) compiling criminal occurrences within a specific area. As this explanation will show, there are issues with police statistics on crime, as they do not show the true extent of criminal activity.

    • You will be introduced to police statistics on crime.
    • You will become familiar with some issues associated with police statistics on crime, such as how they are not representative of the true extent of criminal behaviour.
    • Lastly, we will look at the social construction of crime statistics.

    Police Statistics on Crime, A line of police officers in yellow jackets on a road in central London, StudySmarterFig. 1 - We will be looking at some issues with police statistics on crime.

    Police statistics on crime in the UK

    Police statistics on crime in the UK are one of the main sources of statistical data on crime. These statistics act as a supplement to the crime statistics gathered from the Crime Survey for England & Wales (CSEW) and the Offending, Crime and Justice Survey (OCJS).

    The ONS publishes official documents containing details of crimes reported by police forces in England & Wales on a yearly basis. These documents include details of serious crimes (such as murders) and lesser offences, such as anti-social behaviour.

    Critics have raised issues with the reliability of using police statistics on crime. We will consider how this may be the case, by exploring the discovery and witness of crime.

    Discovery and witnessing of a crime

    For a crime to be included in the yearly police reports, it must first be discovered by the police. For this to happen, one would presume there was a witness, or that the crime was discovered by the police. If a crime is not discovered, it is not included in police reports.

    Moreover, even if someone witnessed a crime, it cannot be presumed that all witnesses will come forward to report the crime.

    A supermarket worker witnesses a mother leaving the shop with nappies and milk formula without paying for them. The worker knows a crime has taken place, but decides not to report it.

    Reporting a crime

    If the crime is not discovered by the police force themselves, a witness will need to report the crime. Many lesser crimes are often not reported to the police.

    Underreporting of crime means that official statistics do not reflect the true extent of the problem. But why may not all crimes be reported?

    Police Statistics on Crime, a flashing light on top of a police car, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Underreporting of crime means that official statistics do not reflect the true extent of criminal behaviour.

    Why may victims be reluctant to report crimes to the police?

    Below, we will consider a number of reasons why a victim of a crime may be reluctant to report a crime to the police:

    1. The victim may see the crime as trivial, e.g. theft of a wallet with £20 in it

    2. The victim may believe the police cannot or will not do anything about the crime (lack of faith in the police)

    3. The victim may feel they have lost nothing as a result of the crime; they may not see any point in reporting it

    4. The victim may believe that the police will not handle the matter sensitively, such as in the aftermath of a sexual offence or honour-based violence

    5. The victim may feel embarrassed if they were, for example, swindled out of money

    6. The victim may be afraid of what would happen if they reported it; for example, victims of domestic violence may be afraid of reporting to the police, especially if they live with the abuser

    If crimes take place in the workplace and are discovered by employers, they may be reluctant to report them to the police, and may instead take disciplinary action against the offending employee. This may explain why crimes committed in the workplace may not be reported.

    Can you think of any other reasons?

    The underrepresentation of white-collar crime

    White-collar crime refers to financial, non-violent crime typically perpetrated by individuals, businesses or even governments. A few types include:

    • Fraud: deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.
    • Ponzi Schemes: a type of investment fraud which pays existing members by using the money of new members. Ponzi schemes are named after an investor called Charles Ponzi, who promised investors a 50% return on their initial investment in a few months.
    • Embezzlement: the misappropriation of funds placed into one's accounts.
    • Money laundering: the concealing of the origin of money, typically by transfer or by other means, such as gambling.

    There is also a growing landscape for cybercrime, a criminal activity facilitated by the internet. Such crimes are underrepresented in official statistics.

    Recording crime

    The police do not record all the crimes reported to them or discovered in official statistics. Reasons for the police now recording a crime vary from:

    • Doubting the honesty or accuracy of the crime

    • Considering the crime to be too trivial

    • Deciding that there is not enough evidence that a crime has been committed

    Should the police record all crimes? If so, why or why not?

    The dark figure of crime

    Sociologists argue that due to the above, we cannot really know the level of crime occurring in the UK. Someone may witness a crime and decide not to report it. However, even if someone comes forward with a report, it may not be recorded.

    As a result, police statistics on crime are treated with caution by sociologists. There is likely to be a dark figure of crime, which represents the actual amount of crime.

    We will now consider the advantages and disadvantages of police statistics on crime.

    Advantages of police recorded statistics on crime

    We will now explore some advantages of police statistics on crime.

    • They are a good compilation of the crimes recorded by the police in any given year
    • Police recorded statistics on crime are a good resource for exploring which crimes occur most frequently in an area
    • Police recorded statistics on crime can be used for yearly comparisons of specific crimes in an area, to see which are increasing or decreasing

    Disadvantages of police recorded statistics on crime

    We will now explore some disadvantages of police statistics on crime.

    • The police decide which crimes to record in police statistics, meaning that not all crimes reported to the police are not recorded. Therefore, it is not an accurate portrayal of crime

    • White-collar crimes are underrepresented by police statistics

    What other problems are there with police statistics on crime?

    The ultimate question a researcher or individual has to consider is whether they can accept police statistics on crime at face value. We can conclude police statistics on crime are not an accurate portrayal of crime. Figures could be distorted by police investment in surveillance, such as by increasing patrols or by investing in CCTV.

    Even when comparing historical figures, you have to take into consideration the widening or shrinking of jurisdiction over what is covered, e.g. marital rape was only outlawed in 1991 in the UK.

    The Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) comprises MPs working for the House of Commons. In 2014, they concluded police statistics on crime could not be trusted. Why?

    It was found numerous police forces were lax in adhering to the national standards of what is deemed to be a crime. As a result, in 2014, the 'National Statistics' quality Kitemark was removed from police statistics.

    The social construction of crime statistics

    Choices to report crime are made by several people involved, such as witnesses, victims and the police themselves.

    Firstly, someone has to witness or discover the crime. If so, someone has to define or identify it as a crime. If this happens, it has to be reported to the police as a crime. Finally, the police have to record it as a crime. This process is made up of a series of choices and decisions by several people; some sociologists argue that this is how police recorded crime is socially constructed.

    Interactionists argue crime statistics are actually social constructions. This theory builds on Howard Becker's theory of deviance. Crimes recorded in crime statistics are simply what the police in a particular locale deemed deviant enough to be recorded in permanent statistics.

    Marxists would align with the interactionist theory, arguing police often ignore white-collar crime to the benefit of the middle and upper classes. White-collar crime is therefore underrepresented in statistics. Feminists would claim that these statistics underrepresent crimes against women.

    Police Crime Statistics - Key takeaways

    • Police statistics on crime in the UK are one of the main sources of data on crime.
    • If a crime is not discovered, it is not included in police reports. Yet, it also cannot be presumed that all witnesses of a crime will come forward to report the crime.
    • Underreporting of crime means that official statistics do not reflect the true extent of the problem.
    • The police do not record all the crimes reported to them.
    • Sociologists argue you cannot ever really know the level of crime occurring in the UK, not only because much is not discovered but also because the police fail to record all crimes brought forward.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Police Crime Statistics

    What are police recorded crime statistics?


    Police statistics on crime refers to the official yearly documents published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) compiling criminal occurrences within a specific area.

    How do police use crime statistics?


    Police use crime statistics to not only make future predictions on crime, but also to allocate funds to tackling crime in specific areas.

    How reliable are police recorded crime statistics?

    Police statistics on crime have been unreliable for a number of reasons. One reason is that not all crimes are recorded in police statistics. 

    How are official police statistics collected?


    The police compile documents on all the crimes they deemed worthy of being included in police statistics. 

    What crime is collected by police for statistics?

    Unlawful behaviour that is reported to the police.

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    Team Police Crime Statistics Teachers

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