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What problems are there in the use of crime statistics for sociological research?

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Introduction

What problems are there in the use of crime statistics for sociological research? Crime statistics come mainly from police reports of crime, as well as the courts and the Home Office. The police's measure of crime comes from estimates made by the police, previously the police only reported crime they saw as important, but since 2002 all crime has to be recorded. When the Home Office puts all the statistics together it provides a picture of the full extent of the 'crime problem'. However, these statistics are often flawed and do not provide a full picture of the state of crime in Britain. Statistics show a sharp rise in crime since the 1950s, with the crime rate doubling every decade. This would suggest we are experiencing a 'crime wave'. However, there can be problems with this evidence, firstly the number of reported crime has increased, the ownership of telephones has risen, and increased burglary maybe due to the increase in valuable goods in the home. The rise in violent crime could be due to the levels of tolerance to it and the rise in other crime could be due ...read more.

Middle

Changes in legislation may also have an effect. For example in 1977 crimes of less than twenty-pounds or less were required to be investigated, therefore rising the crime rate by seven-percent. Likewise the formal cautioning of young people in the 1970s also made the crime rate increase. Problems also lie in who interprets the data and what is the purpose of the production. Statistics can be used to make the government look good, to see how successful a police force is and used by the media to create 'moral panics'. An example of a 'moral panic' was in the case of mugging; the media highlighted this supposed crime, leading to more suspicion and awareness of it, even though it wasn't even a crime in terms of the law. Evidence that crime statistic are flawed come from various other surveys that have been carried out to examine the full picture of crime in Britain. The British Crime Survey was a household survey that asked the general public to give information on any crime they were aware of, regardless how trivial it seemed. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Contemporary left do not accept official statistics as they see them as manipulated by those in power, therefore invalid, where as Left Realists do accept them and believe they show a street crime as a major problem. For sociologists coming from an Interactionists perspective, the statistics are seen as social constructs, in other words created by the people, therefore are biased to courts and the police. However, if the statistics of crime are incorrect this means that sociological theories on crime that depend on these statistics are also incorrect, which can cause a major problem to sociological ideas and improvement. In conclusion, crime statistics provided by the police, government and courts seem to have many flaws to them, not showing a full picture of crime in Britain. This means there is no secure basis for sociologists to base their research and theories round, placing doubt on the validity of their work. For example, it cannot really be said there has been a 'crime wave', rather more crimes are just being reported. However, until a better method of measuring the level of crime is found, the Official statistics have to be depended upon. ...read more.

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