TOPIC 5: Patterns of crime


Police recorded stats

  • Official stats published every 6 months
  • Provide info on total number of crimes 'known to police'
  • Provides historical overview of changing trends
  • Gives accurate picture of how CJS has processed offenders
  • Provides info on social characteristics --> e.g. age and gender
  • May not be accurate reflection of real crime rates --> labelling theorists: social constructions
  • High proportion of crimes may go unreported

British Crime Survey: individual less likely to report crime if -

  • too trivial to bother police
  • private matter between friends/family --> wish no harm to offender
  • too embarrassing
  • victim not in position to give info
  • fear reprisals

More likely to report crime if:

  • see benefit in themselves/faith in police system
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Why do some crimes go unreported?

  • Seriousness = may regard offence as too trivial/not a criminal matter
  • Social status = may view social status of reporter as not high enough to regard issue as worth pursuing
  • Classifying = police officers decide what category of offence crimes go into, opinion determines category/seriousness
  • Discretion = chances of being arrested for offence increase depending on 'demeanour' of person being challenged --> Anderson et al: youths who co-operate/polite = less likely to be arrested 
  • Promotion = police officers have concerns about career/promotion = involves trying to impress senior officers, need to get on with other colleagues --> arrests reflect balance between comradeship and desire for promotion
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The role of courts/the government

The courts:

  • Purpose = ensure conviction is achieved
  • Murder cases = prosecution agrees to lesser charge of manslaughter --> risk of defendant escaping without conviction, overwhelming majority of pleas of guilty as result
  • Official stats give distorted view of prevalence of murder/serious crimes

The government:

  • Views about seriousness of crimes change with time
  • E.g. drug use viewed as more serious crime --> offenders more likely to be treated harshly in past
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Victim surveys

  • Taking samples of population, asking them about experiences of offences
  • Not reported to police
  • Basing statistics on memories --> faulty/biased
  • Categorisation of crimes left to person filling in questionnaire --> leads to considerable inaccuracy in categories
  • Omit large range of crimes - any crime where victim is unable/unable to report crime
  • People appear to under-report sexual offences
  • Suffer from problem of not collecting info from under 16s --> changed recently

The media and sensitisation

  • E.g. soap operas highlight issue of domestic violence --> changed society's attitudes, issue taken more seriously, more likely to be reported on victim surveys
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Self report studies

  • Questionnaires that ask Ps to identify crimes
  • Uncover crimes not picked up on official stats
  • Reveal much about kind of offenders who are not caught/possessed by police
  • Respondents may lie/exaggerate --> may be mistaken
  • Most surveys on young people/students --> no such surveys on professional criminals
  • Majority of crimes uncovered = trivial
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The data explosion and the risk society

  • Late modernists - e.g. Garland (2001) = obsession with stats stems from changes in attitudes
  • Public believed police was capable of solving all crime in past 
  • Late modernity = people more aware of risks/limitations of living in global society
  • People no longer believe possibility of catching all criminals
  • Focus shifted to crime prevention
  • Data explosion highlights when crime most likely to happen - individuals can take steps to avoid being victims
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Patterns of offending

British Crime Survey:
- 62% of crimes in 2000 involved theft
- 20% involved violent acts

  • Young unemployed/low income males = most likely to be victims
  • Perpetrator and victim know each other in 88% of violent crimes
  • Victims of burglary = low income households
  • Repeat burglaries of same property = very common
  • Crime does not happen to everyone - targets poorer/less powerful groups
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Perspectives on criminal statistics - 1


  • Theories influenced by functionalism based on uncritical acceptance of accuracy of official criminal statistics


  • Crime stats do not reflect amount of crime against women 
  • Occur in 'private' domestic setting --> police reluctant to get involved


  • 'Labelling' view rejects accuracy of crime stats
  • Socially constructed


  • Law reflects interests of ruling class
  • Immoral activities of rich ignored/not defined as criminal
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Perspectives on criminal statistics - 2

Late modern:

  • Stats published so government can encourage people to take responsibility for avoiding becoming victims

Left realist:

  • Crime stats cannot be rejected as inaccurate
  • Favour detailed victim surveys in local areas
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