Crime Satistics Essay, Research Paper
Crime statistics are not what we are led to believe We hear a lot about the crime rates going up and down from the media and they tend to expand on specific types of criminal behavior that might be of interest to the public. When politicians are running for office we are told that the crime rates are down due to the tough crime policies that they have been implemented. Citizens seek crime rates for assistance in determining if the area they reside in is safe. Some people wish to get a general idea of the crime rates for a specific neighborhood where they are thinking of purchasing a house. But what is never explained is where do the crime statistics come from and were there any factors that could have had an effect on their reliability. Crime statistics, which are created from what is reported to the police, are often unreliable. There are several influential factors that can make crime statistics both increase and decrease at any time. Most police departments, but not all, use Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) to submit their statistics to the state. Attempting to compare two police agency’s crime statistics is almost impossible because not all police agencies use the UCR program for classifying crimes. UCR is a national data reporting policy that is maintained by the state and regulated by the FBI. This policy requires police agencies to report their monthly statistics by following a hierarchy scale for classifying the criminal offenses. A hierarchy scale is a list of crimes in a specific order of importance used to pick out the highest crime when there are multiple crimes committed in one incident. An example: a citizen contacts the police and makes a report of a burglary, a rape and a larceny all occurring in one incident. As per the hierarchy scale, the crime of rape would be the only one counted because of the higher classification of crime than the other two. By police agencies using this form of statistical classifying, there is a major loss in the data of the lower crimes on the scale. A complete total of certain crimes are not included in the statistics creating several inaccuracies in the totals. The UCR policy does not require all crimes to be reported to the state. Violations of the General City Ordinance and Vehicle and Traffic Law are considered too low for the hierarchy scale. These types of crimes are never included in the monthly submission and we generally never hear about them. Since crime statistics begin at the forefront of the police department, the police officer, this leaves a lot of room for unreliability. Police officers create crime data by completing and submitting crime reports and arrest reports. These reports include all of the pertinent information necessary for the committed crime(s) for a specific incident. There are times when police officers fail to complete written reports of certain crimes or they downgrade the offense of a report to a less serious offense. Meanwhile, some police reports are over-rated in the seriousness of certain offenses. At the end of each officer’s shift the reports and arrest records are submitted to the appropriate unit or division of occurrence. Within a day or two these records are then transferred to a central records department and maintained at this location. During the transfer from one unit to another these records occasionally become misplaced and therefore cause a minor loss of data as a result. The information contained within the reports can come from three different sources. An officer can initiate a report by observing a crime being committed, a citizen can make a complaint to the police or, on rare occasions, the information will come from an offender. Citizen complaints, since they are the largest amount, generally depend upon the public’s trust in the police at that point in time. These types of reports could rapidly decrease or increase at any time depending on the public’s attitude towards the police. If the media decides to publicize an instance of police brutality or harassment the, community may perceive the police as being the “enemy” and the loss of trust in the police department becomes inevitable. When this type of situation occurs, people tend to not call the police out of fear. At the same time, patrol officers become more cautious out of fear of being accused of another wrong action. Proactive patrolling disintegrates which subsequently decreases the number of arrests. All arrests and crime reports are completed at the discretion of the officer receiving or making the complaint. Police discretion plays a major role in crime statistics since there are several occasions when an officer will not make an arrest nor take a complaint. If the officer feels that there is not enough evidence to substantiate making an arrest, he/she might permit the accused party go with just a simple warning. On the flip side, an officer might decide to make several arrests for the same charge during one incident. An example; during a traffic stop, with four citizens in the vehicle, an officer finds a bag of marijuana in the center console of the vehicle. If one citizen claims the possession of the marijuana then the officer can arrest just that citizen. If nobody claims the marijuana then the officer can arrest everyone within the vehicle or just the driver. An officer is usually the complainant on an arrest report. Usually these types of incidents are when an officer makes an arrest for a crime that has occurred in his presence or he somehow has direct knowledge of the incident. While an officer is patrolling a particular area he/she may come across a drug dealer and a purchaser exchanging money and drugs. The officer may not arrest the purchaser because it is more important to get the dealer off the street. Therefore, since the officer bypasses the purchaser to get the dealer, this results in a loss of arrest data. On very rare occasions, an offender will confess to a crime to which he has not been arrested for and sometimes over exaggerating the original facts. The officer would create a report putting the over exaggerated crime(s) on it. After an investigation, the offender was found to be lying about the crime he/she had committed yet the data has already been submitted and no changes are made to the submitted statistics. There are some geographic areas in the community that are less inclined to report a crime when it happens. In lower income areas, residents do not report crimes as often because of fear of retaliation and not wanting the “bad guys” to label them as being informants to the police. In higher income areas, almost every crime is reported. Due to the fact that crime statistics are based on what is actually reported to the police department this makes the statistical information very misleading and often unreliable. Police departments often implement new policies, procedures and programs. Upon an agency implementing a new program such as Community Oriented Policing (COP), where the officers spend more time becoming involved in the community, information regarding criminal activity is given to the police more frequently. COP is when police officers and private citizens work together with the intention of restoring the neighborhood. Officers are readily available to take complaints by consistently being in the same area. The intention of COP is to clean up the neighborhood with the help of the residents and to regain the citizen’s trust in the police department. In this program, most of the officer’s shift is spent on the street walking a beat or on bicycle patrol within a certain area of assignment. Once the relationship between the police and the public shows improvement the, officers tend to generate more reports and arrests thereby creating a substantial rise in the statistical data. Another program called proactive policing has created a major rise in crime statistics. This form of policing has both advantages and disadvantages. While proactive policing increases the number of crimes reported this also generates an increase in the number of complaints against the police. This style of policing is when the officers actively patrol certain crime-ridden areas seeking out the “bad guys” and making numerous arrests. Each police department maintains and regulates their own set of rules and regulations. These sets of rules and regulations are usually called Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). No two police departments have identical SOP’s. These sets of rules are revised and updated frequently without prior notice. One police department may have a procedure for the officers to complete crime reports regarding graffiti on the side of a building and another department may only have an order to notify the appropriate personnel to clean it up. Societal factors can also change the crime rates. One such factor is an increase in households being left unattended. It is sometimes necessary for the heads of households to work during the day due to high rents, mortgage payments and other requirements of life. This in turn leaves the households unattended for several hours at a time, to a burglar this is paradise. Several residences can be burglarized in a neighborhood within a short time period. Most insurance companies have a requirement of a police report if the insured party wishes to place a claim for reimbursement of personal items stolen or damaged. Inflation also plays a role in certain crimes rates. When the prices of items that are necessary to live rises the number of burglaries and larcenies rise also. Recently we have seen a major increase in the price of gas, which also triggers an increase in thefts. Domestic violence is currently a very large problem in society today. In past years many families would not report instances of disagreements, arguments and fights within the household. In recent years there has been an increase in reporting mainly due to more resources available in the community, education for officers and the public. Often these types of crimes are not reported until they become life threatening or fear of further abuse. Since domestic violence is still to some an embarrassing situation for families they often go unreported. What are the problems that occur due to these unreliable statistics? When there is a substantial decrease in crime the public perceives that the local police agency as keeping the crimes down in their neighborhoods. Just as when there is a large increase in the number of crimes the public perceives the police as not doing their job in controlling the situation. The public generally relies mostly on the media for their information regarding crimes in their neighborhoods. The media tends to only broadcast certain information about these occurrences in an attempt to boost the ratings for the news station. The public doesn’t get an unbiased opinion of what actually occurred or a chance to know all of the facts. In reality, crimes that are reported are only a fraction of what in fact occurs. Crime statistics do not actually reflect patterns in crime or a risk of victimization and are of little or no use to the public in determining the crime rates for any given neighborhood. Since crime statistics only represent reported crime and not actual crime occurrences they should never be considered exact at any time. Statistical information is available upon request from the government and should only be considered an estimate of the true crime rates.