Crime is any act or activity that is in violation of the rule of law. Violation of the established laws or rules is punishable by law and the amount and intensity of the punishment is dependent on states and the seriousness of the harm done. Measuring the level of crime is an activity that is done by any government to assess the level of crime and the effectiveness of its crime control mechanisms. If the statistics show that the level of crime in a specific country is on the increase then it means that something must be done either, the crime control mechanisms be strengthened or other factors such as economic, environmental and social factors be considered. Measuring crime is done by use of various measurement methods such as Uniform Crime Report (UCR), self reporting method and National Crime Victimization survey (NCVS) Most of crime measurement surveys rely on police records rather than the number of those in jails and prisons. This research paper is going to mainly focus on the crime measurement methods, how data used in crime measurement is collected and the shortcomings of each method. The paper will also try to analyze the reasons why it is important to measure crime prevalence.
The paper starts off by giving a brief introduction of what crime measurement entails and the methods that are used in its measurement, and then it proceeds in the main body to discuss the topic in-depth and concludes by recapitulating the key points that have been discussed. In the last page of this paper is a list of all the sources that have been consulted in conducting this research, properly formatted in accordance with the American Psychological Association formatting style (APA).
Crime rates in America remains high despite the fact that proper crime control strategies have been put in place. In the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of American youth were involved in various crimes such as stealing car gadgets like hub caps and mugging people in the dark corners in the streets. The difference between the kind of crime that took place in those days with the one in the present times is that it has now become organized with some gangs training their members unlike in the past where crimes were conducted by unorganized gangs. Organized crimes in the United States have been a challenge to those entrusted with the job of controlling them as they are highly secretive and thus not easy to be established. The origin of keeping crime records was due to sociological influences and it is even to date dependent on similar sociological forces. For example it is dependent on ones color of the skin, age, ethnicity and social status. Today if a crime is committed by a person of another race apart from the white and is from a lower social class the crime committed is more likely to reach police records than if it was committed by a white. Though this is the case, there are intricacies that surround the whole activity as not all crimes reach the police or are registered in the police records. For this reason it is not easy to get the real picture of what is actually on the ground but all the same, the figures available help the police to measure the effectiveness of their crime control programs and methods (Andersen and Taylor, 191).
Crime measurement has been in practice since time immemorial. In the 18th century as advocated by Jeremy Bentham, the national court statistics were the ones that were used to gauge the countries’ moral health but this was not an effective method of measuring crime as very few crimes were resolved in courts. With the advent of a well organized police departments in the 19th century, national court statistics paved way to police records (Hough, 2002). Records show that as early as 18th century, crime measurement was still in practice for example; in 1730 a survey was conducted by Aarhus Denmark where people were asked whether they had been victims of crime. In England, the same was practiced by a constable who moved from door to door asking citizens whether they had ever been victimized. In the present day, crime statistics depend on police records and the number of unreported but known cases of crime. Another method that is also used to tinge the picture of crime prevalence though on a low level is the self reported cases by criminals. In the past, statistics that were available were entirely sourced from police departments as per the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IAACP) which was the first organization to collect crime statistics nationwide. As per researches that have been done, the most serious crimes are committed by people who wear suits and most likely if they are whites and are from high social class, are less likely to be prosecuted or even to appear in police records (Samaha, 45) To support the claim that race determines whether one will be arrested and prosecuted, are statistics given by Andersen and Taylor (191) which shows that about eight blacks out of ten are stopped or arrested by police if they are driving late at night irrespective of whether they are driving expensive limousines or are in prestigious jobs something that does not happen to whites of the same class.
The data used by criminologists to analyze crime comes from three sources; criminal and police statistical records, from government commissioned surveys and from the data that is collected by academic as well as other interested researchers but it is the first two that are mostly used (Berger, 1978; 405). One of the main sources of data in the US is the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) that is prepared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and given to the government’s printing office for publication. Most of the crimes reported are those committed by known offenders but there are those that are not reported. The problem with police records is that only most serious crimes appear in their statistics.
There are many forms of crimes and for the sake of measuring their level; they are crimes are classified into different categories such as homicide, suicide, burglary, rape, car theft, larceny and aggravated assault. Due to ambiguity in defining crimes, sometimes it is not easy to keep proper records for example, Berger (1978; 406) poses the challenge in how a crime that is committed by one man against many people, let us say twenty passengers are robbed of their properties when their car is hijacked by one thug. Now, should statistics show twenty different cases or simply one because the act has been committed by one person? Again, in a robbery incident, the victim might get shot, now is this an assault case or both a robbery and an assault case? The problem is should this be entered as two cases of crime or one? There are various methods that are used to measure crime prevalence in the American society but most of these methods that are employed neither of them gives the actual picture or in other words, none is totally accurate. Another factor that hampers the proper keeping of crime records is the complexity of the criminal cases. For example in other circumstances, a crime such as wanton destruction of public utilities might be committed but there is no enough evidence to show that indeed a crime was committed and was committed by whom (Thornberry and Krohn, 2000). In such a situation, it is hard to keep a record indicating the crime committed. This mostly involves what is often referred to as white collar crimes such as organized crimes; funds embezzlements, corruption, fraud and crimes committed against customers by producers like increasing prices or selling fake goods. In other cases, police trivialize some criminal cases regarding them as not serious thereby denying them a chance to appear in crime statistics or in other cases, some crimes such as fornication, stock fraud and other corporate crimes are termed as violations against federal regulations and thus police assume that they do not fall in their province. Still another factor that may contribute to people not reporting crimes to the police is the widespread belief that justice might fail to be delivered if the case goes to the court and in this case, the affected persons may decide to settle their issues outside the court. When this happens the said crime does not reach police records and what ensues is the belief that crime prevalence has significantly reduced as records do not show these crimes, though not true.
Thus the proportion of crime reported to the police can vary over place and time, as can the proportion of reported crimes which get into police records. In other words the ratio between crimes committed and crimes recorded is not necessarily constant over place and time, making police statistics an unreliable index of crime (Hough, 2002).
Though Uniform crime reports are believed as the true source of crime statistics,
their credibility is challenged by media reports which show that crime is higher that what those records show. This shows that not all criminal activities are reported to the police.
Another method that is used to measure crime is the use of National Crime Victimization Surveys. A crime measurement strategy that is in use up to date. This approach was adopted to compliment the Uniform Crime Reports which were said to be leaving out some crimes. This strategy involved conducting various surveys in the population to establish those cases that go unreported. The two methods; National Crime Victimization Surveys and Uniform Crime Reports use completely different means of collecting and gathering data and for this reason they totally give different findings. It is estimated that only about 40 percent of the total crimes committed are reported to the police, a fact that was supported by a survey that was conducted in 1992. According to NCVS, there were 34,000,000 crimes committed but according to the UCR, it was only 13,000,000 crimes appeared in the records (Sociology Index. 2009). In a bid to know the extent of crime in the urban cities, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in collaboration with Bureau of Census have recently been conducting surveys in these areas to establish those who have been victimized and those whose businesses have also fallen victims (Berger 406).
According to NCVS method, the rate of rape, robbery, assault and murder cases have in the recent past been declining but the problem is that NCVS cannot report murder cases as there is no complainant, rape victims might dread of being victimized if they go public and also it is hard to know the prevalence of drug related crimes as again there is no one complaining. “About half to two thirds of all crimes, such as rape may not be reported to the police, meaning that much crime shows up in the official statistics” (Andersen and Taylor, 193)
Police in calculating the rate of crime, add all the number of crimes reported to them and then divide this by the number of people in a particular region. The answer they get is assumed to be the rate of crime but obviously this is erroneous as not all crimes committed are used in this calculation as some go unreported and only exist in dark figures (Berger, 1978; 408). For example, it makes no sense to calculate the rate of car theft in a particular area by considering the whole population as not everybody owns a car. A better way of determining the rate is by dividing the number of registered vehicles in a particular locality by the number of reported cases of stolen vehicles. All the same, the police use these statistics to assess the trend of crime in the country by comparing one year to another.
Apart from the above two mentioned methods of measuring crime and delinquency, there is a third one known as the self reporting method which was adopted in the 1950s. This method involves the concerned parties going from one place to the other asking people whether they have ever indulged themselves in criminal activities and the number of times they have been involved in. This method was devised by sociologists and uses well designed questionnaires which the victims are supposed to tick the appropriate choices. These self reported crime measurement revealed that the disparities that are thought to exist between male and females and between the rich and poor in terms of committing crime do not exist. These surveys show that crime is evenly spread in the community irrespective of locality, status, sex, religion and other factors (Samaha, 43). This method is able to establish more crime than what other official crime measurement methods show, somehow disputing the police records which are believed to be the only reliable source of crime statistics or measuring crime prevalence. Just like other methods have their own shortcomings, self reporting method has some shortcomings too for example, the respondents may give erroneous information by exaggerating facts, as human mind is subject to forgetting, some criminal activities might not be remembered, others may shy away from telling the truth due to the embarrassment that might result if they are established, the method may also ignore some crimes as the respondents would only respond only to the listed down crimes and again, some uninterested respondents with intentions of distorting facts may give false information thereby making the method to give false picture of the crime prevalence (Thornberry and Krohn, 2000).
In crime measurement, there are three methods that are used that is, the National crime victimization Surveys, the Uniform crime reports and the self report surveys. Each of these has its own flaws something that hampers its ability to give a true picture of the crime status of a particular region. The most used methods are the first two with the most bias being on the uniform crime reports. Some of the problems attributed to this method is that some crimes do not appear in the police records as some go unreported while other cases, people decide to settle their cases outside the court. Still in other cases, there is no evidence to prove that a crime was committed for example one may find traffic lights broken. Indeed, a criminal activity took place but there is no one who can be accused as no one was found doing so. If the three methods would be used synergistically to complement one another, the true picture of crime prevalence can be gotten. Though there are some shortfalls associated with each of these methods, they help the police in assessing crime status of a country or a particular region at any time and know the next course of action that needs to be taken.
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