Measure of actual crime

Criminal Statistics are statistics that are compiled from records from local police stations. From these statistics we are able to see what type of people commit what types of crime, which are the most common crimes and they also show rises in particular crimes and rises in crime generally. However these statistics are heavily criticised for a wide number of reasons, one of such reasons is that the public report 90% of crimes. The problem here is where some crimes will go undetected if the public decide not to report them; there are many possible reasons why a member of the public may not report a crime.

Some of these reasons are, people may not report crimes if they feel they are too trivial and the police may therefore define them as petty, victims may be too embarrassed to report certain crimes to the police such as rape, some crimes are defined as private matters to individuals, the victim may not want to harm the offender for example a theft could have occurred by a family member of theirs and finally the victim may not be able to inform the police as they may be too badly injured or dead.

Another problem with the public reporting crime could be where they report intentional crime where an advantage for themselves is gained such as they receive insurance payments. The Merseyside Crime Survey studied the extent of crime in the Liverpool region. It showed that in inner-city areas the local community was less likely to report crime to the police because of a mixture of lack of faith and a fear of reprisal. This shows that criminal statistics are not entirely correct due to a lot of people not reporting crimes to the police for one of the above reasons.

It could also be considered that a person may not be aware that they are the victims of a crime and therefore the crime wouldn't be reported, this is known as invisible crime and is usually white-collar. Examples of this are in the case of false accounting, computer fraud, overcharging by garages and commercial organisations. Also, many jobs include an element of 'fiddling' as part of the accepted way of earning extra money above the basic wage.

Mars in 'Cheats at Work', describes a number of jobs where fiddlers take place, including waiters who routinely steal food and overcharge customers, and garages where the minimum of work was done but extensive repairs were claimed to have been performed. Another crime rarely reported or acted on is corporate crime where large companies, to inflate their profit, perform illegal acts. Pearce, in 'Crimes of the Powerful', studied corporate crime in the USA and claimed that even the detected levels of corporate crime were twice as great as the total value of the robberies in the USA.

Corporate crime is rarely, if ever, uncovered and when it is, it is rarely treated as a crime. The lack of enforcement of Corporate crime gives support for the Marxist view where policing and public concerns are centred on particular types of crime excluding those crimes when if committed they will be done so by the rich and powerful such as white-collar crime. Even when the public reports crimes they still may not become part of official criminal statistics as it is at the police's discretion as to whether or not a crime is recorded.

There are a number of factors affecting how the police record crime, Categorisation – How an act is categorised by the police in criminal terms determines the statistics on crime, Dispersal – the more police the greater the likelihood of acts being seen by the police and possibly defined as illegal, Differential enforcement – Police forces in Britain have considerable autonomy and may take very different approaches to similar crimes, Police Culture – It is argued that the police operate with stereotyped views on who criminals are and are therefore more likely to concentrate on young males, particularly Afro-Caribbean's, Moral Panics – At any one time there tends to be national concern over a particular criminal issue and when this occurs the police are sensitised to this issue and are likely to see out examples of this form of behaviour.

These huge criticisms of criminal statistics have brought about alternative statistics to try and reveal more truthful statistics two of these are self-report studies and victim studies. Self-report studies consist of confidential questionnaires in which the respondents are asked to record whether they have committed any of the criminal acts that are listed. An example of a self-report study is that done by Campbell (Girl Delinquents), in which she tried to find the extent of deviant acts committed by adolescent girls. Results of self-report studies indicate that common criminal acts are spread across much of the population, and that the clear differences that appear in the official statistics between the social classes, the sexes and ethnic groups are far smaller in reality, if these self-report studies are to be believed.

Differences between the social classes, for example of 6 to 1 (working to middle class) decrease to 2 to 1. The same change in ratios is apparent for the sexes. However self-report studies also have their criticisms, some of these criticisms have been as regards the validity, relevance & representativeness of the self-report studies. The validity is questioned, as it is impossible to know whether the respondents are telling the truth. As for relevance the results obtained vary with the categories that the researcher has put on his/her list. Most lists have included large numbers of very minor criminal or deviant acts. As most people commit some minor infringement of the law (under-age drinking in pubs, speeding etc.

), the results obtained are not significant for an understanding of 'true' criminality. Finally the studies are criticised regarding their representativeness as the majority of surveys have been conducted on young people, and so there is little or no information on adult crime. Victim studies are conducted by asking people to list and name the criminal acts that have been perpetrated against them, even if they have not reported the crimes to the police. An example of this has been the British Crime Surveys (BCS) which are regular surveys of the population of England and Wales, carried out by The Home Office, in which one person over 16 in 11,000 households is questioned.

Results indicate that the number of crimes actually reported is massively fewer than the number of crimes people believe to have been committed against them. For example, only 18% of robberies or thefts from the person and about 23% of burglaries are reported. Criticisms of victim studies include exclusion, the BCS excludes many types of crime, such as drug dealing, prostitution & white-collar crime due to their being no real victims in these cases the crime is therefore not reported. Another criticism is on the reliance of individual memory; people may forget, regard the matter as unimportant or be reluctant to mention it because of embarrassment. A final criticism is the classification of crimes, people need to define and classify acts as criminal and they could be inaccurate in doing so.