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Crime Statistics. JUR5100/5101, March 31 2009 Heidi Mork Lomell. The crime rate in Norway 1960-2005 (Crimes investigated). Crime statistics as social constructions. Crime statistics are outcomes of social processes

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Crime Statistics

JUR5100/5101, March 31 2009

Heidi Mork Lomell

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Crime statistics as social constructions

  • Crime statistics are outcomes of social processes

  • Important to study the social and historically specific means by which crime data are produced

  • The production and interpretation of crime data is a social activity

  • What counts as crime? Who counts? How do they count? Why do they count? What consequences do the counting have?

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Crime Statistics in Criminology

  • Measures of crime

  • Measures of the activity of the criminal justice system

  • Starting points for debates on criminality

  • Fictional constructs

  • The realist approach

    • Crime statistics index of the ‘actual’ or ‘real’ volume of crime; a resource with which to study crime

    • validity and reliability

    • “positivist”

  • The institutionalist approach

    • Crime statistics index of social control operations; a topic in their own right

    • crime statistics as products of social and institutional processes

    • “interactionist”

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What counts as ‘crimes’?

  • Offences reported to and recorded by the police

    • all offences in the penal code?

    • Index Crimes?

  • Statistics on criminality

    • persons charged, sentenced and/or imprisoned

  • Criminal justice system statistics

    • police, prosecution and prison (or other punishments)

  • IMPORTANT NOTICE: When comparing crime levels historically and geographically:What counts as ‘crimes’ varies across time and across space. Categorization and counting standards differ, both across time and across space.

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Offences reported to and recorded by the police

  • Reporting: The offence must come to the attention of the police.

  • Recording: The offence must be recorded as an offence by the police.

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The Dark Figure

  • The vast number of unrecorded crimes and criminals

  • “Crime statistics only cover registered offences, or more correctly, criminal behaviour coming to the knowledge of the police. A number of criminal offences are never registered, so that unregistered criminal acts can be called missing figures. There is much to indicate that these missing figures are considerable. The registered criminality is not a completely representative picture in relation to the criminal acts committed in society, but it nevertheless gives us a measure of the development in criminal behaviour.” (2004, p. 13)

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Reporting crime

  • People must first perceive a particular action or event as a crime, and then they must decide to report it to the police.

    • Too trivial

    • Too traumatic

  • If the criminal offence does not involve individual victims; i.e. environmental crime, drug offences and tax fraud, the extent and pattern of reporting the crimes depends on the deployment of police or other government controls such as the customs and the tax authorities.

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Recording crime

  • There may be a number of reasons why the police don’t record what is reported.

    • Disbelief, too trivial, no criminal offence

    • But also be organizational, structural and political reasons

      • Reducing the crime rate

      • Improving the clear-up rate

  • Counting rules:

    • if someone breaks into eight cars parked in a street, is that counted as eight instances of “theft from cars” or as one criminal incident?

    • Norway: “if the report includes several offences, each incident that could make an independent item in the charge should be registered”

    • England and Wales: “One crime per victim”

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Self-report studies

  • Asking people directly about their involvement in rule-breaking behaviour

  • “We are all criminals”

    • Offending is far more widespread than official crime statistics indicated

    • The ‘offender’ cannot be so clearly distinguished as a minority with certain key characteristics as was once thought

    • From a black and white image to shades of gray

  • Self-report data document the selection processes in the criminal justice system, by showing how some categories of offenders and offences were over- or under-represented in official crime statistics.

  • Methodological problems: Representativity (informants, offences)

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Victimization studies/Crime surveys

  • Asking people directly about their experience of criminal victimization, that is, crimes committed against them

  • Measure crimes known to the public rather than crimes recorded by the police. The “true” crime rate.

  • Questioning the increase in official crime statistics:Trends in recorded crimes do not necessarily correspond with trends in reported crimes

  • A starting point for understanding both victim and police behaviour, especially the tendencies of non-reporting and non-recording.

  • Methodological problems: Sampling, memory, knowledge: “Will they remember and will they tell?”. Identifiable victims needed.