Official Criminal Statistics - Positive and Negative Aspects

Term Paper 2010 24 Pages

Sociology - Law, Delinquency, Abnormal Behavior


Table of Contents

A) Preliminary Considerations
I. Distinction between criminal statistics
II. International crime comparisons

B) The main types of offical criminal statistics
I. Official police and court statistics
1. Criminal Statistics in England and Wales
2. The Uniform Crime Reporting Program in the USA
II. Official victimization surveys
1. National Crime Victimization Survey in the USA
2. The British Crime Survey

C) A critical view on official criminal statistics
I. Official police and court statistics
1. Reporting a crime to the police
2. Recording of a crime by the police
3. Critique of the Uniform Crime Reports
4. Critique of the Criminal Statistics in England and Wales
II. Victimization surveys

D) Conclusion

E) Appendix
I. Translation of the chapter “Official Criminal Statistics”

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Carrabine, Eamonn; Cox, Pam; Lee, Maggy; Plummer, Ken; South, Nigel: Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. London 2009.

Hale, Chris; Hayward, Keith; Wahdin, Azrini; Wincup, Emma: Criminology. Oxford 2009.

Heinz, Wolfgang: Soziale und kulturelle Grundlagen der Kriminologie - der Beitrag der Kriminalstatistik. In: Wirtschaft und Statistik 2004, issue 3, p. 346 - 363.

Helfgott, Jacqueline B.: Criminal behavior: theories, typologies, and criminal justice. Thousand Oaks 2008.

Jones, Stephen: Criminology. Oxford 2009.

Joyce, Peter T.: Criminal justice: an introduction to crime and the criminal justice system. Cullompton 2006.

Lynch, James Patrick; Addington, Lynn A.: Understanding crime statistics: revisiting the divergence of the NCVS and UCR. Cambridge 2007.

Maguire, Mike; Morgan, Rodney; Reiner, Robert: The Oxford handbook of criminology. Oxford 2007.

McLaughlin, Eugene; Muncie, John: The Sage dictionary of criminology. London 2007. Newburn, Tim: Key readings in criminology. Cullompton 2009.

Schneider, Hans Joachim: Einführung in die Kriminologie. Berlin 1993.

Walsh, Anthony; Hemmens, Craig: Introduction to criminology: a text/reader. Thousands Oaks 2008.

http://www.nacro.co.uk [04-26-2010]. http://www.unicri.it [04-26-2010].

A) Preliminary Considerations

Statistics are one of the basic instruments on which our society relies. They are for instance used to detect trends or to develop theories on specific topics, or in order to get public-relevant information about the current situation in specific countries. Apart from that, also governments use statistics so as to make certain decisions or to develop long-term strategies on particular issues. Everything is at least in a small way affected by statistical data and their subsequent conclusions. In order to support the importance of official statistics, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany stated in its decision on the census of population that official statistics are an indispensable basis for a welfare state.1

All this also applies to the official criminal statistics. Governments, for example, use them to improve the performance of their own criminal justice system to achieve a safer environment for their citizens2. The public is interested in the data to find out about the crime risks in their neighborhood and how the authorities are dealing with it.

Criminal statistics are frequently used by politicians or in the mass media to substantiate an allegation without challenging the data. By doing this, it is assumed that the statistics are infallible and present a full image of the extent of crime This point, however, has to be critically judged, since official statistics seem to be “both partial and subjectively constructed”3.

In this paper, I will outline the positive and negative aspects of official criminal statistics. Moreover, I will discuss, if they have the ability to represent the full extent of crime or not.

I. Distinction between crime statistics

The criminal statistics can be separated into two different categories. First of all, there are the official criminal statistics, defined as “statistical data compiled by the police and the courts and routinely published by governments as indices of the extent of crime”͘4

Secondly, there are also nonofficial statistics recorded and published by nongovernmental organizations such as the NACRO in the United Kingdom which provides both help for criminals and statistics on crime itself.5

In addition to the national nongovernmental organizations, also internationally operating institutions such as Amnesty International or divisions of the United Nations provide statistics on crime. The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, for instance, provides crime-related researches and analyses for the member states of the United Nations

II. International crime comparisons

Statistics only make sense, when they are compared to other statistics. In times of globalization, the importance of international crime comparisons continues to rise. Not least because of different attempts in the past to minimize the occurring problems, such as different definitions or justice systems. One notable project is the European Sourcebook of Crime and Criminal Justice Statistics. With this project the European Union tries to put the focus on the national characteristics in order to allow a better evaluation of the national varieties.6

Another milestone in the development of international crime comparisons is the International Crime Victim Survey series, which was funded by the Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands. It was first realized in 1989 and since then it has been carried out in more than 70 countries. It was created to collect international data about crime and victimization independent of the official police statistics to compare them among the various countries7

To do justice to this process, I decided to support the following explanations using the examples of the United States of America and England and Wales as one jurisdiction in the United Kingdom. Thereby, I will reveal differences and similarities between the countries and their official criminal statistics.

B) The main types of official criminal statistics

I. Official police and court statistics

In general, the beginning of official criminal statistics is dated back to the year 1827. Jacques Guerry de Champneuf, the state secretary of the French justice department, released the first volume of the French criminal statistics called “Compte général de l’administration de la justice criminelle pendant l’année 1825”͘8 Compared against today’s statistics, the collected data just showed a small extract of the criminal prosecution and as a result it was impossible for them to present a reliable image of crime at that time.

Nevertheless, many other countries followed the French lead and used the charts to control and improve the work of their justice systems. In the 19th century their role changed and since then the statistics have also been utilized to learn something about the moral state of their citizens.9 This is still one of the main functions of criminal statistics in modern societies.

1. Criminal Statistics in England and Wales

In England and Wales, crimes made known to the police were included in the Judicial Statistics for the first time in 1856. In 1876, the Home Office started to publish the annual “Crime Statistics: England and Wales” which contains most importantly the totals of notifiable offences recorded by the police and of offenders found guilty or cautioned for criminal offences.10

Notifiable offences are certain crimes, which have to be reported by statute if they occur. These are basically outlined in the Home Office Counting rules, which describe how and in what ways, occurrences of crime which have to come to the police attention are to be counted as criminal offences in the records.11

Due to the fact that these statistics rely on how the data is recorded by the police, the authorities in England and Wales decided to introduce the National Crime Recording Standard in April 2002 to ensure standardization of police recording practices. The NCRS imposes the obligation for the police to record any reported incident regardless of whether it is considered as a crime or not. The record will remain unless evidence emerges that no crime has occurred.12

For many decades, the “Crime Statistics: England and Wales” were the main compilation and only major statistical information about crime. Today, the Ministry of Justice still publishes a slimmed-down version of this report, but since 2001 the main source of official data on crime is the annual publication “Crime in England and Wales”͘ This publication contains headline information from the police stations and also findings from the British Crime Survey, which will be a topic in the next section.13

2. The Uniform Crime Reporting Program in the USA

In the early 20th century, the authorities had to face a rising crime problem and they decided that much more information about crime trends in the USA was needed. In addition to that, the law enforcement executives wanted to compare their jurisdictions with others more easily in order to see which method works best for crime fighting.14

In consequence of this development, the Uniform Crime Reporting Program was created by the International Association for Chiefs of Police in 1928 to establish a trustworthy and working national crime reporting system.15

In 1930, the U.S. Department of Justice started to compile national crime statistics and the FBI published it. As Today, the UCR reports the number of arrests and crimes known to the nation’s police and sheriff’s departments͘ The data is made voluntarily available by these institutes.16

Today, the UCR is published annually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and is one of the most used data on which modern research in the USA relies. This is also one of the main points of criticism, which will be dealt with later in this paper, since the driving force behind the program is to serve governmental administrative purposes and not science researches.17

II. Official victimization surveys

Over time, more and more people were interested in criminology and it became clear that the official police statistics didn’t meet the requirements of researchers in the field of crime anymore. Therefore, they became curious about victim surveys, because they provide an alternative way of gathering data about crimes.

Each survey involves interviewing a randomly selected representative sample of the public to collect information about their experience of victimization in the past, regardless of whether they reported the incident to the police.18

One of the main advantages of these surveys is the fact that they have a better ability to record crimes which were not reported to the police and thereby try to reveal the so called “dark figure of crime”͘19

The “dark figure of crime” includes all crimes that do not make it into the official crime data. It is the discrepancy between crimes known to the authorities and the true extent of crime.20

Another usefulness of this kind of survey is that they are unaffected by changes to reporting and recording practices which affect, for example, the official police statistics. In addition to that, data derived from this source allows comparing the findings of official police statistics and statements of a random sample of the public on the topic of crime.21

The victimization surveys shift the attention of researchers to the view of the victims and not on the offence. They have the ability to measure victimization in general and certain difficult-to-measure crimes such as domestic violence, rapes or sexual assault because of their anonymous character.

Although researchers identified many methodological problems with victimization surveys in the beginning, governments were convinced that the results of such surveys could help them with handling the crime problem and since the 1970s, many countries have established official crime victimization surveys.

1. National Crime Victimization Survey in the USA

In the 1960s, the authorities of the United States of America realized that their official criminal statistics had a lack of information regarding the “dark figure of crime” and also a lack of detailed information of the victim and the offender such as age, sex, race, income and especially the relationship between them.22

The authorities also saw that their statistics were open to possible manipulation due to various reasons which will be discussed later in this paper. They further recognized that the collected data reflects mainly law enforcement activities and not necessarily actual trends in crime.23

Therefore, the National Crime Victimization Survey, previously called the National Crime Survey, was developed in 1972. It was constructed by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of the Census to support the UCR data through carrying out a survey on a representative sample of addresses on an annual basis, which all the occupants aged twelve or older interviewed on their experienced of victimization.24 Today, it is the most known victimization survey in the USA and a model for various other victimization surveys such as the BCS.

2. The British Crime Survey

During the 1970s, the prevailing opinion among British criminologist was that the continuing rise of the crime rate could be primarily accounted to the changes in reporting and recording practices.25 This view combined with the shifting attention to the crime victims and the growing interest of the public and politicians in crime lead to the first conduction of a victimization survey in 197726.


1 BVerfGE 65, 1, 47.

2 cf. Hale/Hayward/Wahdin/Wincup, Criminology, p.45.

3 McLaughlin/Muncie, The Sage dictionary of criminology, p. 277.

4 McLaughlin/Muncie, The Sage dictionary of criminology, p. 276.

5 http://www.nacro.co.uk [04-26-2010].

6 cf. Heinz, Wirtschaft und Statistik 2004, p. 361f.

7 cf. Carrabine/Cox/Lee/Plummer/South, Criminology: A Sociological Introduction, p. 38.

8 cf. Schneider, Einführung in die Kriminologie , p. 41f.

9 cf. Heinz, Wirtschaft und Statistik 2004, p. 349.

10 cf. Maguire/Morgan/Reiner, The Oxford handbook of criminology, p. 324.

11 cf. Hale/Hayward/Wahdin/Wincup, Criminology, p. 54.

12 cf. Carrabine/Cox/Lee/Plummer/South, Criminology: A Sociological Introduction, p. 34.

13 cf. Jones, Criminology, p. 31.

14 cf. Lynch/Addington, Understanding crime statistics, p. 55.

15 cf. Helfgott, Criminal behavior: theories, typologies, and criminal justice, p. 15.

16 cf. Walsh/Hemmens, Introduction to criminology, p. 34.

17 cf. Lynch/Addington, Understanding crime statistics, p. 55.

18 cf. Walsh/Hemmens, Introduction to criminology, p. 40.

19 cf. Carrabine/Cox/Lee/Plummer/South, Criminology: A Sociological Introduction, p. 37.

20 cf. Helfgott, Criminal behavior: theories, typologies, and criminal justice, p. 13.

21 cf. Joyce, Criminal justice: an introduction to crime and the criminal justice system, p. 65.

22 cf. Walsh/Hemmens, Introduction to criminology, p. 40.

23 cf. Lynch/Addington, Understanding crime statistics, p. 18.

24 cf. Jones, Criminology, p. 41.

25 cf. Maguire/Morgan/Reiner, The Oxford handbook of criminology, p. 348.

26 cf. Jones, Criminology, p. 41.


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official criminal statistics positive negative aspects



Title: Official Criminal Statistics - Positive and Negative Aspects