Theoretical information enhances our understanding of crime

In this essay I am going to explore why the common sense understanding of crime is limited. The main purpose of this essay is to look at the limitations of the common sense understanding and how statistical and theoretical information enhances our understanding of crime. In order to do this I will use statistics and theory. I am going to look at what is portrayed in the media, statistical information and criminological perspectives, in order to understand how our common sense understanding of crime has become limited.

The common sense understanding of crime is the public's views on crime. The media influences this view and this creates an unrealistic picture of what effect crime has on society. This limits our common sense understanding of crime because media represents crime in a way that is untrue. Understanding of crime for most people is a bad and over the top view, that makes society look bad, as only the most violent and aggressive crimes are portrayed in the media. The types of media that show and publicise crime are those such as, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. News stories concentrate overwhelmingly on serious violent crimes against the person and less on petty crimes.

The media also usually focuses on ethnic minority males as the offenders. This can create a stereotypical offender, which the public recognise. Furthermore there is great emphasis upon violent crime portrayed in the media, such as rape and murder, compared to less violent crimes such as vandalism or burglary. Some statistics oppose this view as looking at crimes overall there are considerably less violent crimes than non violent crimes, 21% of crimes recorded are violent crimes compared to just 15% of crimes recorded being vehicle related theft (Home office 2008). Also when looking at which crimes are shown in the public eye through the media they have to have an element of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is the sufficient interest or importance of the event to the public, to warrant reporting in the media. Chibnall's (1977) showed that in order for a crime to get media attention, it must have the 8 'professional imperatives'. These 8 professional imperatives are Immediacy, Dramatisation, Personalisation, Simplification, Titillation, Conventionalism, Structured Access, and Novelty. Interactionist Stanley Cohen (1972) stated that the mass media play a key role in the construction of crime statistics, because most of the information that the public get about crime comes from television and newspapers.

Media reporting shapes crime and influences people views and opinions. This is known as or can lead to moral panic. An example of moral panic comes from Stanley Cohen on the Mods and Rockers (1964). Cohen looked at societal reaction to disturbances involving Mods and Rockers, which took place in Clacton in 1964. The media represented these disturbances as a confrontation between rival gangs. The mass media then produced a distorted picture of what went on. Cohen claimed that the reaction of the media to events generated moral panic, as a result Mods and Rockers were singled out as 'folk devils' which set in motion a deviancy amplification spiral. Society then reacted to the deviancy which occurred between and amplified it.

Statistical information enhances our understanding of crime. Statistics are facts and figures that are collected and recorded. There are different types of statistics, for example, official statistics and research statistics. Official statistics are Information collected by the courts and by police, while research statistics are information collected by crime and victim surveys. Although statistics are seen to enhance our understanding of crime there are many limitations that come with them. The main problem to arise when considering statistics is when people are question how real they are. Muncie & McLaughlin, 2001 stated that "Although most academic analysts, the media, politicians and the public rely on official statistics as 'hard facts', the first and more paramount 'fact' is that they are both partial and subjectively constructed" (Muncie & McLaughlin, 2001: 25). This suggests that statistics are more fiction than fact in some areas, and are in fact constructed to give people a false common understanding.

For a crime to become an official statistic it has to go through the '3 R process'. The 3R process makes sure that a crime is recognised, reported, and recorded. To be recognised the act must be identified as a crime by a victim and/or a witness, next it must be reported to the police for them to then record the crime. The crime then become an 'official statistic'. May 1997 thought that "we end up not with 'facts' about crime, but the result of a series of decisions and practices which do not produce either valid or reliable outcomes" (May 1997: 71). This helps us to see that statistics are not 'facts' about crime, but are actually the end result of a social process.

The media uses figures to create newsworthy headlines and stories such as 'Violent crime increases by 14 per cent' (Daily Mail, 22/01/2004). When people see this in a newspaper they aren't seeing the full picture, just a perceived view that violent crime is getting worse. Herbert Bulmer argued that interactionism is based on three central views. One of which is that human behaviour is not determined by social forces but rather that people are self conscious beings who choose what to do on the basis of how they see things.