When the British Crime Survey, which involves asking a large survey of people if they have been a victim of crime and if the crime was reported and recorded, it reflected large discrepancies in the criminal statistics. The survey confirmed that only 44 per cent of crimes were reported to the police. Forty four per cent didn’t report the crime because they thought the crime to trivial to report and 33% felt the police wouldn’t be able to do anything. Figures supplied by The 1998 British Crime Survey England and Wales, Government Statistical Service page 366 Haralambos and Holborn 
The survey also found that even though a crime had been reported, the police did not always record the offence in the same category as the British Crime Survey or that the police did not record the crime, either because they felt it was too trivial or that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed and get a conviction. There is also a question on how the police themselves perceive the seriousness of a crime and how they had the right to use their own discretion over how they dealt with offences. Sometimes minor offences were neglected, perhaps to avoid extra paperwork or that even arrests were made in order to return to the police station and get out of unpleasant weather conditions.
Although the British Crime Survey gives a clearer assessment of crime statistics through victim surveys there are some crimes that people maybe hesitant or even reluctant to admit to. Feminists argue that where sexual abuse or domestic violence occurs women are very reluctant to admit to being a victim of these crimes and even less to reporting it because of social attitudes. Those that do have the courage to report a sexual attack then have to relive the experience to a male dominated police force and judicial system.
There are also instances where the individual doesn’t realize that they have been a victim of a crime. For instance, with corporate crime or fraudulent transactions from their bank account and so these types of crimes go largely unreported. It also depends on the victim perceiving what happens to them as being a crime in the case of a young child being molested or abused. The media play a key role in this as they provide illustrations of crimes and generally heighten sensitivity towards certain forms of behavior. By giving greater importance in their reporting on certain crimes the media create what is termed a ‘moral panic’. For instance if an elderly person or female is the victim of a violent attack, in their reporting they create a fear that these groups are more at risk when in fact young males feature far more in crime statistics as victims of assault and robbery.
Technical factors also influence official statistic and affect how offences and offenders are counted. Several offences may be committed in one incident in which case only the most serious is counted or where there is a ‘continuous series of offences such as using a stolen credit card several times, only one offence is counted (Coleman and Moynihan 1996) page 27 Croall 
The judicial system also contributes to the official statistics but even these figures should be open to question as the practice of plea-bargaining often takes place in the courts. Sometimes it is negotiated with the accused in that they are offered a possibility of a lesser sentence if they plead guilty so the true crime is not recorded. Page 374 Haralambos and Holborn 
The BCS is a cross sectional survey and doesn’t contain information about crime in different areas of Britain. This has resulted in Local Crime Surveys (LCS) being conducted in particular areas to identify unequal distribution of crime. These surveys are a lot more detailed than the BCS and uncovered crime not reported in the BCS. One well known survey is the Islington Crime Survey (1986 and 1995). These showed that the BCS under reported the higher levels of victimization of ethnic minority groups and domestic violence. Croall 
The Interactionist discards the accuracy of crime statistics and instead focuses on understanding the way they are socially constructed. Official statistics are often influenced or socially constructed by those compiling the statistics. This can be seen by the perception that ethnic minorities are perceived to be responsible for a high incidence of crime but the police often target areas where large numbers of ethnic minorities live.
This victimization of ethnic minorities through police discrimination and racism is an important element in the assessment of official statistics. This can be seen from figures issued by the Home Office in June 2000 where there was an over representation of ethnic minorities in prisons in Britain and where 19% of the male prison population were ethnic minorities against their representation of the overall British population which was only 5.5%. Statistics supplied by the Race and Criminal Justice system www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase [accessed 06 March 2006]
Howard S. Becker examined the effects upon an individual of being labeled as deviant. Police often have a bias against working class delinquent and they will often target low-income estates as it is perceived more crime is committed in an under privileged area. If a fight involving young people breaks out the police see this as evidence of delinquency yet, if the same incident happens in a middle or upper income area it is seen as evidence of youthful high spirits and these youngsters are normally let off with a warning. Page 373 Haralambos and Holborn 
Once a youth is labelled as a delinquent he or she is stigmatised and labelled as a criminal and then this label becomes the person’s primary identity and can lead to a continuation of deviant or criminal behaviour. This is known as the labelling theory. Page 210 A Giddens 
Marxist perspective believes that the law and it’s agents, being the police, courts and the judicial system protect the interests of the ruling class and that a crimes by the poor are strictly adhered to but crimes by the more affluent of our society are ignored. This can be reflected in the under reporting of what is known as white-collar crime. White collar crime or corporate crime is usually associated with wealthy and powerful offenders and usually involves financial fraud, tax evasion or embezzlement such as the Maxwell pensions debacle but it can also be associated with breaches of health, safety or environmental law. Many of these crimes go unpunished and therefore under reported because of the vast range of enforcement agencies used to monitor these areas. A large number are also settled out of court as it is felt punishment has already been inflicted by the offender losing his job and being subjected to shame from his family and community. Also fraudulent crimes are normally at a corporate level and don’t affect an individual as such so many remain invisible. page 272 Hazel Croall 
The Left Realists believe official statistics cannot be simply rejected but used in conjunction with self-report studies to give a more balanced view of crime. Self-report studies attempt to persuade people to confess to offences they have committed but which may not be known to the police and therefore go largely unreported. They can be useful in their detail of these ‘offenders’ by giving us their ages, gender and social class but the disadvantages are in their validity in that some people may not be open to admit they have committed a crime, have been a victim or they may even exaggerate or be mistaken about their crimes. We should also question the problem of representativeness with self report studies as most are on young people and students and not on a fair cross section of the population.
The role of the government where laws are changed in response to cultural changes can have an impact on the crime statistics. What was considered to be a crime changes over time as a result of governments changing the law in response to cultural changes and the influence of powerful groups. For instance attitudes have changed to the use and possession of Cannabis and it’s deregulation to type C so there has been a decline in arrests due to the police response to public opinion. The official statistics make it look as though it’s declining in use when in actual fact it is not.
Despite these criticisms, official statistics on crime are still a useful resource as long as they are used critically. They have been collected since 1857 and so can provide us with a historical overview of changing trends over time. They are cheap and easily available and they give us the ability to assess change over a period of time and they consist of a large number of cases. If they are combined with other statistics from self-report and victim surveys the sociologist can be given a clearer picture of the extent of crime in Britain. As with all surveys they must be assessed critically to ensure their validity and that they represent a cross section of people and give a balanced representative picture.
Anthony Giddens  Sociology Fourth Edition, Oxford, Polity Press
Anthony Giddens  Sociology Introductory Readings, Oxford, Polity Press
Haralambros and Holborn  Sociology Themes and Perspectives fifth edition, London, Collins
Hazel Croall  Crime and Society in Britain, Essex, Pearson Education Limited
Hazel Croall  Understanding White Collar Crime, Buckingham, Open University Press
Nicholas Abercrombie et al  Contemporary British Society Third Edition, Oxford, Polity Press
Ronald J. Berger et al  Crime, Justice and Society an Introduction to Criminology, Second Edition, London, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.
Tony Bilton et al , Introductory Sociology Third Edition, London, Macmillan Press Ltd
Web Sites Referenced
[accessed 01 March 2006]
www.homeoffice.gov.uk [accessed 06 March 2006]
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