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The Dark Figure of Crime and the Reporting of Crimes

Info: 2537 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 26th Aug 2021

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): UK Law


The dark figure of crime is a term that is used by crime experts and the sociologists to illustrate the number of committed crimes that are never reported or are never discovered and this puts into doubt the effectiveness and efficiency of the official crimes data. Among the crimes that take place in any given place at a given period of time, some of them are never reported to the police, and some are reported but never recorded by the police officers. Albert Biderman in his thesis has described Dark Figure in crime as an ‘occurrences that by some criteria are called crime yet that are not registered in the statistics of whatever agency was the source of the data being used.’ In this situation, the sociologists define the difference between committed crimes and the reported and recorded crimes as the dark figure of crime.

The paper aims at highlighting the root causes of the dark figure of crime and the extent at which it exists in the society. There is need for a clearly defined procedure for reporting and recording of crimes committed. This paper therefore provides a precise process that should be followed to report and record crimes. It also gives full explanation about the limitations and strengths of reporting and recording of crimes and highlights some of the latest developments that have been achieved as a way of fighting the vice.

Roots of crime

There have been a number of theories that have been developed by theorists in relation to the development of criminology, where some believe that the lack of equality and the environment is a cause of crime in the urban areas. Criminologists explain that the roots of crime are found in the level of neighbourhood as stated in the social disorganization theory. However, in the book, “Neighbourhood and Crime”, the Author argues that this theory has not taken into account the larger social, political and economic forces in the urban settings that surround that neighbourhood. The author also maintains that it is hard to understand the urban crime without considering the capability of the neighbourhood to gather up the other community residents, churches, schools and other institutions who are not part of the neighbourhood to practise control over the prevention of crimes (Robert, Bursik, & Harold, 1993)

The neighbourhood in which a child is brought up and where he lives have a great influence on the behaviour of that child as he or she grows up. Some areas have higher rates of crime than others. This may not be attributed to the fact that many criminals live there but by the fact that the people living in that area support some acts that may grow into major crimes when they get adapted by the growing young people.

The institutionalists argue that the official data represent the real crimes since they are the ones defined as crimes by the concerned agencies. They therefore argue that it is not a mistake to fail to record a crime as there has to be realised that if an act is not recorded it is because it fails to meet the criteria of the definition of crime by those agencies that are involved with it. The crime may therefore not be falling within the classification of crimes by the relevant authority. Thus according to this theory Dark Crime does not exist in society.

Crime recording procedure

For a crime to be recorded there are three things that must be provided. One, a person must know that a crime has been committed. This means that the one who committed the crime must be aware, or must have been seen by someone else while committing the crime (Coleman, & Moynihan, 1996).

Secondly, the crime must be reported to the relevant authorities either by the person who committed it or the one who has observed the crime being committed. It will be very unlikely that the former will report the crime as he or she has committed the crime.Thirdly, the police or others to whom the crime has been reported must also accept that the act has been done against the law, or that law has been broken in the act. If one of the three fails, then the crime goes unrecognized. However, other members of the public may have noticed or heard about the crime and could be expecting the police to act. If they don’t, their reliability is therefore questioned by the public. The official figures on crime that the police department bears has been found to be a product of a complex social protocols. It is built through social relations, negotiations by perpetrators, those who bear the evidence and the police, relying on their decisions and judgements as to what to define as crime and the appropriate measures to take.

The process for recording crimes takes place in three stages. The first stage is reporting a crime. An individual has to report that a crime has been committed which is usually the victim to the police, or the police themselves have to notice the crime being committed. In such a case, the police relate the reported act with previous incidences to decide whether to term it as a crime or not. The second stage is recording a crime. After the incidence is reported to the police, they have to make a decision whether to record the report. They then must determine the number of crimes to record and the types of offences in the reported crimes.

The Home Office in the United Kingdom which is responsible for the police in England and Wales issues guidelines of classifying crimes in their records. This is important especially where several offences have been committed or where an offence has been committed by many persons. The categorization of the cases on such basis allows for them to develop the case in the form, and makes it easier in the future when charges against the guilty have to be laid down. The third stage is detecting a crime. After the crime has been reported, recorded and the necessary investigation conducted that connects it to a particular victim, it is then detected following the guidelines provided by the Home Office in the police department. When the victim is identified, he or she is charged in a court of law or cautioned after the court considers the report of the detectives (Moore, 1996).

Limitations and strengths of reporting and recording of crimes

Most of the crime statistics, these are in reference to the statistical reports that are available from the authorities, mainly the police department are considered unreliable and renders the reliability of the police body questionable due to various limitations faced. These include the failure of the crimes to be reported to the police. There are a number of reasons that contribute to the fact that the crimes that take place do not get reported. One important fact that contributes to this is that members of the public fail to report crimes that they have witnessed being committed to the police and the authorities as they believe that they are insignificant and do not regard them as significant enough to report (Dennis N, Erdos G, Robinson D). Others fail to report cases because the victims may consider the crimes as being embarrassing for example rape. They therefore choose to keep to themselves and suffer in silence. One of the most popular reasons as to why crimes are not reported when they are perpetuated is because the victim may not know that he or she is a victim of a crime (Devine J). For example, in the case of fraudry, individuals fail to recognise that are defrauded. Also there are cases where those who are victimised may not be in the position to file a complain or even realise it. This is especially true in the cases of crimes that are perpetuated against children or the elderly. They either fail to recognise the fact that they are being victimised, or cannot report it. For example, when children are raped they usually fail to report it as they are scared. Other reasons for failure of reporting of cases are lack of trust with the police body out of previous experiences, fear of victimisation and rough justice where the victims may decide to take the law in their hands.

There is also the problem that most of the crimes that are committed are subject to police judgement, where some may consider a crime more important to others and may put in more input in it than the other. The failure to file the report in the correct department of police may also have a direct impact on the cases (Entourage 007, Online). If the case is filed in another department, then the file may get lost in transaction to the relating department due to which action on the case may fail to be initiated (Times, 2008). Another limitation is that some crimes may be more reported than others for example in cases that involve insurance claims for example in cars and other goods. There are movements that may lead to onslaught of some crimes such as driving while drunk at Christmas (BBC News, Online). Police may also influence reporting of crimes where there is a move from the community or the informal policing to sterner military based policing that allows zero tolerance to campaigns that might influence the rates of crimes (Pasha, & University of Wales, 1998).

Most of the law enforcement officers have powers of making judgement and can influence the number of crimes that are recorded depending on how they record their own activities (Baltimore Sun, 2009). A member of the public may report his or her case to the law enforcement officers but it may not be recorded until it is proved to be in such a way that it fits to be incorporated in their crime data. In such a situation, cases like offending of the minors and the mentally ill may be ignored and under looked especially when the law enforcement officers have other serious cases to deal with. There have been cases where the offence has been failed to be recorded due to the fact that the person against whom it is being filed is powerful in society. For example, in the US the police failed to file a complain that was made by an elderly about a fraud run by a private corporation in the nursing homes.

However, there are also strengths in issues concerned with reporting and recording of crimes. Changes in the legislative system, technological changes and police man power are some of the strengths that have been relied upon. These can influence the crimes data by decriminalising some actions, creation of new class of offences for example in the traffic issues involving use of safety belts. On technological changes, use of telephones, alarms and close circuit cameras have brought new techniques of reporting and recording of crimes. The number of police officers that are being employed in every police post is on increase and this enables them to handle the higher numbers of crimes. The police forces are also employing civilians that may help in reporting of the back office crimes (Biderman, & Reiss, 1967).

Latest developments

Governments in various countries are implementing policies that will help promote crime recording and help mitigate crimes at the community level. The community members have been put in control of the community justice where they will be dealing with some crimes that take place in the villages and those that do not reach the law enforcement officers. Crimes that have been severally recorded as being frequently committed have also been set on tough measures. The community members have also been provided with information on what is happening at the ground level. This will help them recognize crimes when they are being committed and will ensure that they are able to report them. Communication between the members of the community and the police bodies is also being highly encouraged.

Another development in criminology is on creating awareness among the members of the public on the rate of crimes in the society. By this, they will be more positive on reporting the crimes to the police (Mosher, 2002).


The numbers of dark crimes have fallen because there has been an attempt made by authorities to ensure that they will wipe out the limitations and the fears that affect those who witness the crimes and fear reporting them. The members of communities and those others who witness crimes will therefore get encouraged reporting them. The surveys that have been undertaken by various government and non governing bodies reflect that the number of dark crimes have fallen in the recent years.

It is very important to record crime data since it can be useful in assessing the effectiveness of the measures used in crime prevention, and also for the effectiveness of the law enforcement officers. It is also useful in evaluating the safety of a certain area by looking at the number of crimes recorded form the area for a certain period of time. Generally, the crimes statistics can be used to judge the overall judicial system of a country. The crime data is also used by the politicians and other activists to campaign for or against policies that deal with the crime rates in a certain region. Such data should be recorded and made available to the criminal justice system where they can be accessed by those who are interested in the figures.


  • Biderman, A., & Reiss A., 1967, On Exploring the “Dark Figure” of Crime, Washington, Bureau of Social Science Research.
  • BBC News, Online 2009, Police launch Christmas anti drink driving campaign, accessed on June 2010-06-02 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8387152.stm
  • Coleman, C., & Moynihan, J., 1996, Understanding crime data: haunted by the dark figure, Buckingham, Open University Press.
  • Dennis N, Erdos G, Robinson D, 2003, The Failure of Britain’s police, a comparison of British and New York’s police departments, The Cromwell Press.
  • Devine J, Failure to report a crime, accessed on June 2010-06-02 at http://ezinearticles.com/?Failure-to-Report-a-Crime&id=2910297
  • Entourage 007, Online, Santa Barbara Police in California are writing a record number of traffic tickets, accessed on June 2010-06-02 at http://hubpages.com/hub/Police-in-California-are-writing-a-record-number-of-tickets
  • Jupp V., Davies P., & Francis P., 2000, Doing criminological research, London, Sage.
  • Mosher, C.,2002, The History of Measuring Crime, London, Sage.
  • Moore, S., 1996, Investigating Crime and Deviance. Harpers Collins.
  • Pasha, T., & University of Wales, 1998, The dark figure of crime: its measurement, limitations and methodological problems, Wales, University of Wales press. Mosher, C.,2002, The History of Measuring Crime, London, Sage.
  • Robert J., Bursik, Jr., & Harold, G., 1993, Neighbourhoods and Crime: The Dimensions of Effective Community Control. New York: Lexington Books
  • The Baltimore Sun 2009, Police integrity stings- another failure, November 24, 2009.
  • Times 2008, Police Fail to record crime properly, as violence rises 22%, October 24, 2008.

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