Understanding Crime Statistics and What They Mean

At times, it can be difficult to decode the meaning of crime statistics. These statistics are widely used in policy debates that can lead to major changes in how crime and punishment is treated under the law. When debating changes to policing strategy and sentencing, it is important to understand accurately the scope of the social problem as well as the factors that contribute to it. However, there are different types of ways to look at crime statistics, and measuring both can help people and policymakers to come to a greater understanding of the current situation.

Crime Statistics Recorded By Police

The classically reliable crime statistics come from police department recordings. These are regulated, standardized and formal, taken from the documentation of reported crimes in a particular area. In general, they reflect information obtained immediately after a crime rather than recalled much later. These statistics are officially compiled according to government regulations. However, there can be inaccuracies or inconsistencies even in these reports. For example, not all types of crimes are tracked, and the rules for how crimes are reported can change over the years. Some crimes are not reported to the police, and the police recording of crimes can be problematic or insufficient.

Crime Statistics Gathered Through Surveys

Another approach to crime statistics involves victimization surveys, studies conducted throughout the population to determine an overall picture of crime in an area. These surveys are often official and involve large samples of households, and they can reflect incidents that do not show up on police-recorded statistics. In addition, they reflect the subjective experiences of crime victims. However, these surveys can also omit certain types of crime and can reflect the negative biases of subjective accounts as well. Some crime victims may be reluctant to discuss their experiences, while others may overstate their own recollections.

Crime Statistics and Social Factors

There are a number of factors that can be assessed when looking at crime statistics, including the location and prevalence of certain types of crimes. For example, Texas has a comparatively higher number of felons than Oregon or Florida. This could reflect population differences, actual prevalence of crime or the different types of classifications used by different states. Generational felony statistics can also shed light on the crime situation, as people of certain ages are far more likely to be convicted of crimes than those younger or older than them.

Because crime statistics can be presented in order to make widely disparate policy arguments, it’s important to look directly at the data. Rather than promoting fear and overpolicing, responsible use of crime statistics can help people to understand more accurately the risks that they face and to develop solutions to address them.