Is the world a more dangerous place now than fifty years ago? Do we all have the same views on what is a crime? Who are ‘criminals’?
I am going to look in detail at exactly how crimes are recorded in England and Wales, what process a crime has to go through before it is recorded, and what happens to all those crimes that go unrecorded.
I accept that this is a diverse and controversial area, and for the purpose of this essay I am going to concentrate on attempting to discover just what the relationship is between the real crime statistics and the Dark Figure of crime.
According to statistics, the British crime rate has risen regularly since the end of the second world war, many people would agree that behaviour has deteriorated over the last fifty years, and many believe that this is due to the breakdown of the family structure, the decline in close knit communities and changes in the education system, although this may well be the case, the figures themselves cannot actually prove this to be correct.
When a crime is committed, as far as the average citizen is concerned, the crime is recorded on an accurate database and we all know exactly how much crime is happening, what sort of crimes are most common, which crimes are on the increase, and what type of person is most likely to be a criminal. These statistics are there to give us all a clear picture on what we believe to be our social construction. Well unfortunately this is not the case.
Currently in England and Wales there are two ways of ‘measuring crime’ which consequently gives two different results. Police recorded crime is composed from a list of categories outlined in the Home office Counting Rules, known as ‘notifiable offences’ the main categories consist of; violence against the person, sexual offences, robbery, burglary, theft and handling stolen goods, fraud and forgery, criminal damage, drug offences and an ‘other offences’ category that includes offences from assisted suicide to terrorism. This is known as the Official Crime Rate. The OCR is compiled annually by the police for the Home Office, they show that criminals are typically; male, working class, youthful and disproportionably black. Can we trust that this is genuinely a reflection of who criminals are? Or does this merely show that young, black working class males are more policed than any other type of person walking the streets? Figures show that black people are eight times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than whites, during 2000/2002 there were 714,000 stop and searches recorded in England and Wales of which 12% were of black people, 6% were Asians and one per cent were of ethnic minorities. The stop and search figures show the over representations of blacks in the figures have actually increased since 1999/2000, when they were five times more likely to be stopped.
The other method of ‘measuring crime’ in England and Wales is through the British Crime Survey (BCS) which is an annual survey carried out on around 40,000 people to ask if they have been a victim of certain crimes over the last 12 months. The BCS came about as a result of dissatisfaction with the comprehensiveness compiled from police records. The survey was first carried out in 1982, collecting information about people’s experiences of crime in 1981. The BCS was then carried out in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001. Since 2001/02 the survey has run continuously. The main offences covered by the BCS are; burglary, household thefts, theft from the person, vandalism, vehicle related thefts, common assault, wounding and robbery.
So which gives us the clear picture on how much crime really is happening? Do we rely on Police recorded crime which covers the crimes that the BCS do not cover, such as drug-dealing and taking, murder and fraud, or do we trust the British Crime survey to give us a...