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graph on the rise

Crime rates

How much crime is there? Who is committing it? Who are the victims? These are obviously big questions for politicians, law-makers, police, and the public. These questions are often followed by another one: is there more crime than there used to be?

Whether crime is going up or down is a question of considerable political and social significance. Politicians might want to use information about the extent of crime, and upward or downward trends, to inform policy-making. Members of the public might want to use that information to make judgements about risk, and about how they conduct themselves (e.g., will information about the extent of violent crime affect where and when I go out?; will information about the extent of fraud affect my willingness to share my personal details with other people or companies?). They might also use information about the extent of crime to evaluate the job politicians are doing.

People might also interpret information about the extent of crime in line with their existing understandings and preconceptions about the world:

For politicians, this might mean interpreting and communicating ‘crime’ information in a manner that suits their political priorities: so as a politician you might want to communicate a success story about crime which involved identifying some kind of downward trend; or, if you were trying to push through a controversial policing or security measure, you might want to emphasise a particular ‘problem’ of crime.

Depending on their views of the world, members of the public might see society as being in decline, and gravitate towards claims which suggest that crime is ‘on the up’. Alternatively, they might see ‘crime’ as a feature of social development (e.g., the development of motor vehicles creates a new set of crimes committed by drivers; and motor vehicles are also another thing which can be stolen or criminally damaged).

So, it really is difficult to establish a ‘true’ and objective picture of how much crime there is. Have a look at this article from The Guardian in January 2017. What can you take from the article about the difficulties of: (a) measuring how much crime there is? (b) determining whether there is more crime than there was?

Discuss your thoughts with your colleagues.

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This article is from the free online course:

From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

University of York