Evidence From Successive British Crime Surveys Since 1982

Perhaps the most significant recent observation on the subject of crime data is the divergence between crime statistics published by the government, produced from information supplied by forces, and those, which are published by the government from the results obtained in the British Crime Survey (BCS). The BCS measures crimes against people living in private households in England and Wales and has been conducted eight times since 1982. According to the BCS there were 11,297,000 crimes in 1999 as against 2,573,000 for a comparable subset of crimes recorded by the police. This means that only 23% of crimes against private individuals and their households ended up as crimes recorded by the police. There is therefore a dark figure which represents 77% of all crime which respondents say they experienced that does not feature in the published police statistics. The difference between the extent of crime according to police and BCS figures has been known since the first survey in 1982. Despite this the public debate on the prevalence of crime invariably takes place on the basis of statistics published by the relevant government departments including the Home Office or Audit Commission, which have been supplied by the police themselves. It is particularly worrying that the knowledge that the police statistics are a very distorted data set has been in the public domain for nearly two decades and yet it rarely informs the media, public debate or policy formulation. This chapter will address the shortcomings of crime data derived from police forces in England and Wales. Furthermore concerns about the accuracy of statistics produced by the police apply in other countries makes international comparison problematic, for example similar concerns have been raised about the very low official recorded crime rate in Japan (Finch, 1999, 2001).

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