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Benefits and the Limitations of Crime statistics

3. How important are statistics for understanding and responding to crime? In your answer, you should discuss the benefits and the limitations of crime statistics.

“Statistics is a body of principles and methods concerned with extracting useful information from a set of data to help people make decisions.” Statistics can be found all around us as part of our lifestyles. We see it in advertisements, in the news, as well as in polls. It provides us with a comprehensive set of ideas and tools to deal with data. This need for statistics arises from the omnipresence of variability. As data around us are constantly subjected to change, statistics demonstrates any changes over time, as well as expectations and preparations that should be made for what has yet to come. Moreover, due to the multiple representations of data, statistics helps classify information to present us with a clearer picture of the entire situation. This aids us in spotting of the smallest differences, enabling us to focus on areas, which may have been overlooked. “[Statistics are] not merely numbers; they are numbers with a context.” They provide insight into issues that simulate us into thinking of various reasons and possibilities for the manifestation of such figures. In other words, statistics come with context, in turn providing meaning. Therefore, they play a vital role in assisting with our understanding and response towards crime.

As a crucial aspect in the understanding of crime, statistics is highly essential for the review of existing policies, as well as developing ideal public and private policies to deal with crime. They assist politicians in advocating for or against polices designed to tackle crime, determining the effectiveness of their policies. Statistics, gathered through feedback and surveys conducted on the population assist with the evaluation of the policies. They facilitate government agencies in making judgements on what is to be expected with the implementation of these policies. As such, comparison between results and previous estimations can be made to determine if their goals have been achieved or require further refining. Therefore, this gives government bodies a general idea whether their policies meet the benchmark, while simultaneously reflecting on the criminal justice system. Hence, by understanding crime through statistics, the state would be in a better position to respond to existing crime rates by implementing more relevant and effective policies after review.

Statistics help to categorise crime into the different social groups such that the more prevalent groups engaging in crime are being highlighted and greater focus can then be directed there. Crime is associated with many social concerns such as gender issues , the different age groups , poverty issues , and race issues. The awareness of such matters gives a more comprehensive perspective to the source of these problems, allowing a more accurate and critical analysis to be made. Statistics support our understanding and help with the establishment of theories made on the different social groups. For instance, with the increasing number of gang fights, the situation is analysed with theories developed thereafter to explain for such behaviours. With the basis of such theories, the state would have a clearer perspective to where to problem lies, hence more effective policies and measures can be put in place to address the various issues. Apart from the immediate measures that come about with the executed policies, the creation of theories enables the implementation of long-term goals by making future estimations. This would be more effective as the underlying causes of crime such as the problem of unemployment, limited education and poverty are being dealt with, rather than just the surface of the problem. For instance, increasing police forces in a particular region would be an immediately, efficient measure in dealing with theft. However, implementing a long term measure such as promoting education in schools that stealing is wrong and encouraging parents to teach their children would defiantly be a more effective approach.

Lastly, statistics is important as it forms the basis of surveys and causal studies. Obtaining specific and accurate data ensures that these surveys and studies are not biased. This is imperative as objective information is required for comprehending and understanding, followed by tackling the crime appropriately. Conversely, subjective data may result in greater confusion, creating complications.

While we know that statistics is important for understanding and combating illegal behaviours, we need to look into the benefits and limitations it brings when aiding such purposes. We will discuss the reasons why despite the limitations present, statistics are still considered a key element in the eyes of criminologists.

Statistics allow observations to be made across time and space, enabling the effortless identification of emerging trends or patterns. By highlighting such patterns, government bodies would have an amplified awareness on the areas they should currently be attending to. Distinctions can be made on areas that require greater attention due to increased trend. Comparable analysis of crime rates is also made possible between different states or countries to analyse the efficiency of the various policies in relation to one another. Reasons are devised to justify the disparity in results for the various policies. From that, individual states or countries can introduce further improvements into existing policies. Only through such methods can we ensure that policies are constantly improving to shape a society that is safer for the people.

However, there are limitations in using statistics to make comparisons. There are varied reporting procedures among different states and countries such that some are able to obtain a more wholesome report than others. This depends on variable factors such as the availability of resources the state allocates for the collection of reliable data. Furthermore, “incidents that make up a crime event may involve a number of offenders … victims, different offences, and/or multiple incidents of a single offence type.” In many cases, crimes involve repeated offenders with repeated victimisation occurring on same victims . Therefore, statistics tend to present an overlap of cases, making comparisons not very reliable. Moreover, the presence of different legal structures in various states or countries makes comparison difficult. As laws vary between places, there exist criteria differences in labelling an act as criminal. There is no standard law for all. Hence, convictions passed on a similar person’s actions would vary between places due to geographical variations in recording practices or during a different time period due to changes in law over time. Then again, while distinct crimes are defined differently in relation to local state laws, nonetheless they can be grouped in a manner to make comparison between states and countries possible. Although various limitations may exist, these statistics are highly essential for the comparison and in turn for the understanding of crime. Regardless of how the criterion varies, the discrepancy between the figures would not be significant, hence reliability still persists, consecutively, aiding in the understanding of crime.

Another benefit of statistics is demonstrating the accountability of the government bodies. It is necessary to monitor their performance to meet expectations of both the agencies themselves as well as the public’s. Statistics illustrates whether introduced measures are effectual and aspired society goals have been accomplished.

Besides having benefits, there are limitations when dealing with statistics. A huge problem involves it being misleading in the way it is presented. Firstly, it could be unrepresentative whereby only certain groups of people are taken into consideration. The problem lies in victimisation by which crimes against the most vulnerable and less powerful sections of the population have been neglected or under-represented. ‘Dark figures of crime’ which consist of unreported crimes as well as undiscovered crime also affects statistical value to some extent. Not all crimes are reported readily to the police and neither are all of sufficient significance to involve jurisdiction.

A large aspect of hidden crime varies directly with the economic cycle. Another example that makes it particularly difficult in acquiring accurate statistics would be that of serial murder figures as victims find it tough participating in victimisation surveys. Moreover, it is difficult to measure high volume crimes such as shoplifting in a consistent manner, resulting in imprecise figures being recorded. In addition to that, time-consuming administrative practices also result in the under reporting of crime. Biasness of statistics may also exist due to routine actions and decisions that law prosecution officers make. Therefore, the public might develop misconceptions.

Moreover, statistics are highly influenced by courses of action conducted by the government bodies. For example, if police forces are increased in a particular area, crime rate would definitely increase due to larger number of criminals being arrested, but that does not necessary imply that criminal rates have increased. In fact, crime rates in that region could possibly be relatively the same as before. Statistics only provide us with numbers and it depends on our analysis to come up with explanations for the figures, therefore, it all falls back on one’s inference. Another reason for statistics being misleading is its over-concentration on figures rather than the use of rate – figures relative to the population – which would be a more useful measure. The use of figures may delude people into making wrong interpretations from data such that they may think that a higher number of crimes are occurring, but if population was to be considered, and population increase is greater than increased crime rate.

Their initial interpretation of the statistics would be wrong. Furthermore, sometimes technical terms understood by the public do not accord with what the data is meant to represent, leading them towards the wrong direction. For instance, the term ‘violent crime’ is defined differently by various people; therefore statistics need to be more specific when talking about a generalised issue. The way statistics are presented to the public, especially by the media could be misleading. Due to the selective use of statistics to support the media’s arguments may result in it being misused. Moreover, the way the media portrays a certain idea by playing around with the words, misguides viewers into thinking a particular way they want. The media is highly influential as those who lack confidence and have disbeliefs in the criminal justice system are the ones who obtain their information from the media. Thus, rather than enlightening the public on issue s of the state, greater confusion is created and people are lead into developing an impression depicted by the media, which often tends to be sensationalised.

Besides being misleading, an added limitation would be the measurement of ‘total crime’, which involves is the summation of large numbers involving the different classes of reported offences. The nature of the offence that may come into the court’s notice resulting in a conviction is an area of concern. Equal weight is placed on all offences without taking the severity of offence into account. This makes it unfair as irrespective of whether convictions range from minor to major, it will still be considered one crime when considering the measurement of ‘total crime’. Subdivisions should be listed under ‘total crime’ to allow us to compare not only the total figure, but the different categories of crime more specifically such as in Article 7 to prevent misinterpretation.

Despite these limitations, there must be reasons why government bodies continue to heavily rely on statistics for information. Although irregularities may exist resulting in inaccuracy, however, they are still largely credible based on the efforts and resources invested by the state. Statistics are highly essential in keeping us updated on crime rates, helping with our understanding of crime, how to create a safer environment for society through the reductions of crime, as well as review the accountability of the government.

In conclusion, crime statistics are largely important with the assisting in our understanding and the establishment in response to crime. Regardless of the numerous ongoing debates about its limitations, there lies a certain level of truism in crime statistics that criminologists rely on to interpret crime irrespective of how it is defined. Official crime statistics provide us with some sense of overall communal well-being and indication of broad crime patterns which helps us determine the level of safety on the streets. Statistics serve as a guideline for the creation of policies and followed up on thereafter. Without it, countries would fail to distribute their resources to the maximum potential; neither would they be able to distinguish if any improvements on crime rates have been achieved. Therefore, statistics are highly significant in determining our understanding and response to combat illegal behaviour, in turn, allowing the development of theories to understand the actions of various social groups, such that all in all, we are able to arrive at a common goal of a secure and dependable society.


Article 7
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Article 16
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