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What is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

Introduction

The first step to understand and control a given social problem such as crime is to measure or determine its extent. The step involves establishing the prevalence of the problem, the location where it is rampant when it is common, and the social groups that are most affected by the problem. Using crime as an example, the endeavors of criminologists and criminal justices is boosted when these professionals acquire knowledge about the prevailing trends and patterns of this vice over time. Over the years, three different ways of measuring crime have been developed namely: official law enforcement data, survey research, and self-reporting. Out of these three sources of reporting a crime, official law enforcement data provided by government agencies is widely used in both the United States and other developed countries to measure crime. In this paper, however, each of the three measures is discussed in detail to illustrate that there is no single perfect method of measuring crime. The paper discusses the different types of reporting crime with an aim of illustrating that the best way to measure crime is to use a triangulation method that will involve all the three ways in order to have an accurate depiction of criminal activities within a given location or duration.What is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

An Overview of Measuring Crime and Crime Patterns

Forensic psychologists use a wide variety of data from both private and government sources to measure crime. The main data sources, however, may be grouped into three different categories: the official law enforcement data that consist of Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), survey research that includes National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), and self-reporting (Walsh, 2011). The Uniform Crime Report was established in the 1920s by the Association of Chiefs of Police. Nine years later, it was taken over by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The first FBI UCR was released in 1930. The UCR has established two categories of crime: Part I and Part II. Part I offenses include four different crimes namely, robbery, homicide, assault, and rape done through force. On the other hand, Part II offenses include all the other crimes. Several validity issues have been raised against UCR. They include reporting and law enforcement practices that limit the usefulness of UCR data. The heightened efforts to correct the inherent weaknesses of UCR have led to the development the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which is considered to provide more reliable and valid official statistics about crime. Other sources of crime data include crime victimization research surveys where large numbers of people are asked to indicate whether they have experience crime victimization over a given timeframe. An example of this form of data collection is the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) that is carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A national representative sample consisting of people aged 12 years and above are interviewed by the bureau’s personnel twice each year to collect data on crime (Walsh, 2011). Finally, the self-reporting surveys make it possible for criminologists to collect crime data without any form of reliance on government sources. The surveys are given in groups and ask individual persons to describe their crime life. However, none of these three ways of measuring crime are entirely perfect.

Support for Official Law Enforcement Data-what is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

Some researchers have felt that official law enforcement data provided by government agencies provides the best way to measure crime. Sibley (2015) argues that the Uniform Crime Report is suitable for measuring most of the crimes that occur today including both violent crimes such as rape, murder, and robbery, and property crimes such as theft of motor vehicles and burglary. Sibley argues that compared to the other ways of measuring crime, the Uniform Crime Report is the one that serves the most purposes and tends to be more beneficial to individuals who can access it. According to him, the law enforcement agencies use the UCR to formulate their budget, make decisions pertaining to policing, and to boost effort by communities to counter crime. Additionally, criminal justice and researchers studying crime have continued to rely on UCR and over the years have developed major improvements to the criminal justice system. Sibley (2015) lauds the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) as the best alternative to the UCR. According to him, the NIBRS is more comprehensive since it included crimes that could have been omitted in the UCR. His views are supported by Jarvis (2015) who points out that currently, the NIBRS provides the best way to measure crime given that the majority of researchers have turned to it as they study different issues relating to crime.

The Best Way of Measuring Crime: Using a Triangulation Method-what is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

Despite the arguments provided by Sibley (2015) and Jarvis (2015), it is clear that of the three main sources of crime, there is no single perfect measure. What is considered as the “best measure” will be dictated by what a given researcher wants to know. According to Walsh (2011), the UCR measures both what people consider as less serious crimes on the basis of arrests made and the more serious offenses as well. The UCR provides the best single source of data pertaining to serious crimes. Walsh (2011) notes that indeed, it is the only source of information for researchers that want to study murderer rates. For a researcher that wants to measure drug-related offenses, self-reports would be the most preferred data source. On the other hand, studying crimes that are considered to be less serious but which occur commonly, data from self-report surveys and victimization surveys would be the most appropriate.

Discussion-what is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

The two official sources of law enforcement data namely the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) are widely used to provide crime data and to measure the extent of offenses. However, the two official sources of crime data namely the victimization surveys, and self-reporting are not entirely accurate. Indeed, each of these ways exhibits their own strengths and weaknesses when used to measure crime. The ‘dark side” represents the biggest weaknesses exhibited by the official statistics. According to Walsh (2011), only 40% of property crimes and 47% of violent crimes are reported to the police and therefore included in these statistics, leaving the remaining 60% unaccounted for. Additionally, the FBI’s hierarchy rule that dictates that the police includes only the most serious crimes implies that the UCR tends to underreport crimes. There is also the possibility that police departments could falsify crime data for political reasons. Victimization surveys and self-reporting, too, have their own weaknesses. First, these surveys tend to exclude certain crimes such as prostitution, gambling, and drug dealing. Survey research would not work if used to measure murder crimes since it is not possible to interview such victims.  Moreover, there is no legal sieve or stringent evidentiary standards to be met for victimization data to be recorded as an offense. Additionally, as a means to measure crime, survey research suffers from challenges such as memory lapses and biases when the interviewee provides a dishonest answer. In other cases, the respondents are likely to provide downright lies about their life experiences. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that the current ways of reporting and measuring crime does not yield data on basic and common forms of crime such as domestic violence, crimes against children or perpetrated by gangs, and gun violence.

Conclusion-what is the Best Way to Measure Crime?

It is evident that out of the three main sources of crime, there is no single perfect measure. Each of the ways of measuring crimes identified in this paper has its weakness and strengths. What is considered as the “best measure” will be dictated by what a given researcher wants to know. In some cases, using a triangulation method involving all the three types namely official law enforcement data, survey research, and self-reporting could provide an accurate depiction of criminal activities within a given location or duration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Jarvis, J. P. (2015). Examining National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data: Perspectives from a quarter century of analysis efforts. Justice Research and Policy16(2), 195-210.

Sibley, R. (2015). The benefits of criminal justice data: Beyond policing. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved from https://sunlightfoundation.com/2015/05/01/the-benefits-of-criminal-justice-data-beyond-policing/.

Walsh, A. C. (2011). Criminology: the essentials. Sage Publications.