Official full extent of crime throughout Britain today,

Official statistics on
crimes committed in Britain are published annually by the
Government. The main source of these statistics are gathered from
crimes which are recorded by the police, courts and the British Crime
Survey (BCS), which is a large-scale survey carried out by the
Home Office every year. Combining these statistics reveals an idea of the full
extent of crime throughout Britain today, however, sociologists
believe there are numerous factors which impact these figures and that
these official statistics, do not reveal a true representation of the
actual crimes committed throughout the year. From the functionalist
perception, Emile Durkheim stated that deviance is a necessary part of all
societies and that police and the courts are necessary to keep deviance in
check and to protect social order. Durkheim argued that crime is an unavoidable
part of society and that all social change begins with some form of deviance
and a limited amount of crime is necessary and beneficial to society. She also
states that society could not exist without some form of deviance as it marks
the boundaries of society (Haralambos and Holborn 2000). This
essay will consider these factors and perspectives to assess how accurate
gathered statistics are and to also relate them with issues concerned with
social diversity.

 

The most fundamental restraint
of official crime statistics, is that they only include crimes actually
recorded by the police which make ‘official statistics’ inaccurate as many
crimes go unrecorded or unreported. Theft of a vehicle has a high volume of
crimes reported and recorded as in order for a claim against insurance to be
processed, it has to be reported to and recorded by the police. The same applies
to a burglary in which property has been taken as opposed to victims of an
assault or vandalism who will often not report the crime. This could be due to
fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, a mistrust of the police or they may
even feel that the police will not see it as serious enough to record it. Some
crimes are also referred to as a civil matter, meaning individuals involved
should settle the issue between themselves. These offences not captured in
official statistics are referred to as the ‘dark figure’ or ‘the iceberg
effect’ of unrecorded crime (Abercrombie et al, 2000). 

 

The British Crime Survey,
which involves delivering a survey to a large number of properties throughout
all areas in the UK, questioning occupants over the age of 16 whether they have
been a victim or involved in a crime, and whether or not they had reported and
recorded it. This brought forward many discrepancies when considering the
Official Statistics (Haralambos and Holborn, 2000). Compared to previous
years, there has been a decrease in unreported Domestic Abuse complaints, as
more crimes are being reported to the police. This could be due to improvements
in crime recording by the police and also the police have improved training on
their ability to identify offences and domestic abuse related incidents, therefore,
more victims are coming forward to report crimes as they may feel more trust
and reassurance that they can be helped (Flatley, 2017).

Technical aspects also impact
official statistics and affect how offences and offenders are calculated.
Several crimes may be committed in one incident however only the most serious
crime is counted or in cases where there is a continuous series of offences
such as using a stolen credit card or debit card several times, only one
offence is actually counted resulting in inaccurate over-all results. (Coleman
and Moynihan 1996).

 

The survey also found that
even though a crime had been reported, the police did not always record the
offence in the same category as the British Crime Survey or that the police did
not record the crime, either because they felt it was too trivial or that there
wasn’t enough evidence to proceed and get a conviction. There is also a
question on how the police themselves perceive the seriousness of a crime and
how they had the right to use their own discretion over how they dealt with
offences. Sometimes minor offences were neglected, perhaps to avoid extra
paperwork or that even arrests were made in order to return to the police
station and get out of unpleasant weather conditions. 

Although the British Crime
Survey gives a clearer assessment of crime statistics through victim surveys
there are some crimes that people maybe hesitant or even reluctant to
admit to. Feminists argue that where sexual abuse or domestic violence occurs
women are very reluctant to admit to being a victim of these crimes and even
less to reporting it because of social attitudes. Those that do have the
courage to report a sexual attack then have to relive the experience to a male
dominated police force and judicial system.  

There are also instances where
the individual doesn’t realize that they have been a victim of a crime. For
instance, with corporate crime or fraudulent transactions from their bank
account and so these types of crimes go largely unreported. It also depends on
the victim perceiving what happens to them as being a crime in the case of a
young child being molested or abused. The media play a key role in this as they
provide illustrations of crimes and generally heighten sensitivity towards
certain forms of behavior. By giving greater importance in their reporting
on certain crimes the media create what is termed a ‘moral panic’.
For instance if an elderly person or female is the victim of a
violent attack, in their reporting they create a fear that these groups are
more at risk when in fact young males feature far more in crime statistics as
victims of assault and robbery. 

The judicial system also
contributes to the official statistics but even these figures should be open to
question as the practice of plea-bargaining often takes place in the courts.
Sometimes it is negotiated with the accused in that they are offered a
possibility of a lesser sentence if they plead guilty so the true crime is not
recorded. Page 374 Haralambos and Holborn 2000 

The BCS is a cross sectional
survey and doesn’t contain information about crime in different areas of
Britain. This has resulted in Local Crime Surveys (LCS) being conducted in
particular areas to identify unequal distribution of crime. These surveys are a
lot more detailed than the BCS and uncovered crime not reported in the BCS. One
well known survey is the Islington Crime Survey (1986 and 1995). These showed
that the BCS under reported the higher levels of victimization of ethnic
minority groups and domestic violence. Croall 1998 

The Interactionist discards
the accuracy of crime statistics and instead focuses on understanding the way
they are socially constructed. Official statistics are often influenced or
socially constructed by those compiling the statistics. This can be seen by the
perception that ethnic minorities are perceived to be responsible for a high
incidence of crime but the police often target areas where large numbers of
ethnic minorities live. 

This victimization of ethnic
minorities through police discrimination and racism is an important element in
the assessment of official statistics. This can be seen from figures issued by
the Home Office in June 2000 where there was an over representation of ethnic
minorities in prisons in Britain and where 19% of the male prison population
were ethnic minorities against their representation of the overall British
population which was only 5.5%. Statistics supplied by the Race and Criminal
Justice system www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase   accessed 06
March 2006 

Howard S. Becker examined the
effects upon an individual of being labeled as deviant. Police often
have a bias against working class delinquent and they will often target
low-income estates as it is perceived more crime is committed in an under
privileged area. If a fight involving young people breaks out the police see
this as evidence of delinquency yet, if the same incident happens in a middle
or upper income area it is seen as evidence of youthful high spirits and these
youngsters are normally let off with a warning. Page
373 Haralambos and Holborn 2000 

Once a youth is labelled as a
delinquent he or she is stigmatised and labelled as a criminal and then this
label becomes the person’s primary identity and can lead to a continuation of
deviant or criminal behaviour. This is known as the labelling theory.
 Page 210 A Giddens 2001 

Marxist perspective believes
that the law and it’s agents, being the police, courts and the
judicial system protect the interests of the ruling class and that a crimes by
the poor are strictly adhered to but crimes by the more affluent of our society
are ignored. This can be reflected in the under reporting of what is known as
white-collar crime. White collar crime or corporate crime is usually associated
with wealthy and powerful offenders and usually involves financial fraud, tax
evasion or embezzlement such as the Maxwell pensions debacle but it can also be
associated with breaches of health, safety or environmental law. Many of these
crimes go unpunished and therefore under reported because of the vast range of
enforcement agencies used to monitor these areas. A large number are also
settled out of court as it is felt punishment has already been inflicted by the
offender losing his job and being subjected to shame from his family and
community. Also fraudulent crimes are normally at a corporate level
and don’t affect an individual as such so many remain invisible. page 272
Hazel Croall 1998 

The Left Realists believe
official statistics cannot be simply rejected but used in conjunction with
self-report studies to give a more balanced view of crime. Self-report studies
attempt to persuade people to confess to offences they have committed but which
may not be known to the police and therefore go largely unreported. They can be
useful in their detail of these ‘offenders’ by giving us their ages, gender and
social class but the disadvantages are in their validity in that some people
may not be open to admit they have committed a crime, have been a victim or
they may even exaggerate or be mistaken about their crimes. We should also
question the problem of representativeness with self report studies
as most are on young people and students and not on a fair cross section of the
population. 

The role of the government
where laws are changed in response to cultural changes can have an impact on
the crime statistics. What was considered to be a crime changes over time as a
result of governments changing the law in response to cultural changes and the
influence of powerful groups. For instance attitudes have changed to
the use and possession of Cannabis and it’s deregulation to type C so there has
been a decline in arrests due to the police response to public opinion. The
official statistics make it look as though it’s declining in use when in actual
fact it is not. 

Despite these criticisms,
official statistics on crime are still a useful resource as long as they are
used critically. They have been collected since 1857 and so can provide us with
a historical overview of changing trends over time. They are cheap and easily
available and they give us the ability to assess change over a period of time
and they consist of a large number of cases. If they are combined with other
statistics from self-report and victim surveys the sociologist can be given a
clearer picture of the extent of crime in Britain. As with all surveys they
must be assessed critically to ensure their validity and that they represent a
cross section of people and give a balanced representative picture.