Us Crime Measurement

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Even though most of the fundamental problems with official crime statistics had been identified before the end of the nineteenth century, including the major problem of the dark figure of unknown crime, it was not until the mid-twentieth century that systematic attempts to unravel some of the mysteries of official statistics were initiated. Turning to data sources outside of the official agencies of criminal justice, unofficial crime statistics were generated in order to explore the dark figure of crime that did not become known to the police, to create measures of crime that were independent of the official registrars of crime and crime control, and to address more general validity and reliability issues in the measurement of crime. There are two categories of unofficial data sources: social-science and private-agency records. The first of these is much more important and useful. Among the social-science sources, there are two major, significant measures, both utilizing survey methods. The first is self-reports of criminal involvement, which were initially used in the 1940s to "expose" the amount of hidden crime. The second is surveys of victimization, the most recent and probably the most important and influential of the unofficial crime statistics. Victimization surveys were initiated in the mid-1960s to "illuminate"–that is, to specify rather than simply to expose—the dark figure and to depict crime from the victim's perspective. There are also two minor, much less significant sources of social-science data: observation studies of crime or criminal justice, and experiments on deviant behavior. Among the sources of private-agency records are those compiled by firms or industries to monitor property losses, injuries, or claims; by private security organizations; and by national trade associations. The focus here will be on the social-science sources of unofficial crime statistics, particularly victimization and self-report surveys. Victimization surveys. Recognizing the inadequacies of official measures of crime, particularly the apparently substantial volume of crime and victimization that remains unknown to, and therefore unacted upon by, criminal justice authorities, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice initiated relatively small-scale pilot victimization surveys in 1966. One was conducted in Washington, D.C. A sample of police precincts with medium and high crime rates was selected, within which interviews were conducted with residents. Respondents were asked whether in the past year they had been a victim of any of the index crimes and of assorted nonindex crimes. Another surveyed business establishments in the same precincts in Washington, D.C., as well as businesses and residents in a sample of high-crime-rate precincts in Boston and Chicago. The instruments and procedures used in the first pilot survey were modified and used to interview residents in the second study. Owners and managers of businesses were asked whether their organization had been victimized by burglary, robbery, or shoplifting during the past year. The third pilot survey was a national poll of a representative sample of ten thousand households. Again, respondents were interviewed and asked whether they or anyone living with them had been a victim of index and nonindex crimes during the past year. They were also asked their opinions regarding the police and the perceived personal risk of being victimized. The pilot studies verified empirically what criminologists had known intuitively since the early nineteenth century—that official crime statistics, even of crimes known to the police, underestimate the actual amount of crime. However, these victimization studies showed that the dark figure of hidden crime was substantially larger than expected. In the Washington, D.C., study, the ratio of reported total victim incidents to crimes known to the police was more than twenty to one (Biderman). This dramatic ratio...
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