Referring to at least two sources of data, critically discuss how crime is measured in Britain and explain why the statistics do not provide us with a full picture of how much crime there actually is.
If one were to ask how much crime there is in Britain, the judgement could differ depending on whom you were asking or their judgement on what they actually class as criminal behaviour. Society is ambivalent towards crime, which skews the analysis over the level of criminal activity in Britain. Maguire describes the area of crime numbers or trends as one of ‘shifting sands’ (Maguire 2002, p,322) in terms of the developments and creations in criminological process and thought which happens day to day. He also argues that finding the true level of crime bears very little significance in the study of criminology, but what bears greater significance is the critical approach by which the data is analysed.
Nevertheless, there are official police-generated crime statistics in Britain, made up of reported and recorded crimes, which still, to this day impact on how politicians and journalists view the government’s effectiveness in dealing with crime. The Official Crime Statistics in England are published annually and allow various sectors of society such as the media, politicians and the general public to assess the extent and the trends in criminal activity. These published tables of national crime statistics named ‘Criminal Statistics, England and Wales’ were first compiled in 1857 and were based on annual returns from the courts and the police which were then aggregated by government statisticians (Maguire 2002). Crimes recorded in police statistics are defined by the ‘Notifiable Offence List’ (ONS: Data sources – further information). This follows technological advances in recent times, which have grown the net number of police-recorded crimes, such as ‘common assaults’. Many minor crimes have been upgraded and are now regarded as ‘notifiable offences’ (Maguire 2002).
However, there are significant shortcomings with the police-generated crime statistics, such as the fact that certain crimes are not included in this list, referred to by the ONS as ‘non-notifiable’ crimes. These crimes often include anti-social behaviour or minor crimes such as drunkenness, littering or begging. Whilst there is criminal activity occurring in Britain which does not come to police notice, and therefore is not recorded (discussed in detail later in this paper), there are crimes which the police are aware of, but use a great deal of discretion as to whether or not these crimes are recorded (Maguire 2002). The public are responsible for notifying around eighty per cent of recorded crimes to the police (McCabe and Sutcliffe 1978), however, the latter have the responsibility for deciding which crimes to deal with and which to ignore. Often they can regard some crimes as too trivial or they dispute the legitimacy of others, which can lead to unreliable data. Moore, Aiken and Chapman (2000) see the police as filters, only recording some of the crimes reported to them.
Furthermore, there are certain types of crime that are excluded totally from these statistics, seriously altering the extent to which the data can be classed as comprehensive. The term ‘notifiable’ offence essentially refers to one, which can be tried by the Crown Court. This leaves ‘summary offences’ (those which can only be tried in a Magistrate’s Court) excluded from the data (Maguire 2002). In addition to this, crimes which are not regarded as the responsibility of the Home Office, such as those recorded by the British Transport Police, Ministry of Defence Police, and UK Atomic Energy Authority Police (who between them record some 80,000 notifiable offences annually) (Kershaw et al . 2001, p91) are also excluded from ‘official crime figures.’
A further limitation with police recorded crime data is caused by the unpredictable fluctuations with...
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