The British Crime Survey (BCS) is a large sample survey whose main purpose is to provide an index of crime. This paper falls into two parts. Firstly it discusses the rationale of crime surveys and the design of the BCS and presents some of its main findings about the extent of crime, statistics and data.
It goes on to present a conceptual framework for analyzing the distribution of crime, illustrating this with findings on the risks of burglary. The rationale for crime surveys Criminologists have always known that there is a large dark figure of crimes which never find their way into police records.They have also been aware, therefore, that statistics of recorded crime can only be used as a measure of the extent of crime if the proportions of crimes reported to and recorded by the police remain constant over place and time. However, despite the improbability of a constant dark figure, recorded crime statistics have for generations been pressed into service not only to measure the actual workload imposed on the criminal justice system, but also to show the extent of crime. In the absence of alternatives, it is not really surprising that these statistics have been used in this way.What is needed ideally, of course, is some measure of crime collected independently of processes designed to control crime.
It is only recently with improved facilities for computer analysis and better survey methodology that crime surveys have made such measures possible. The actual motive force, the political spur for the introduction of the British Crime Survey was the belief that statistics of crimes recorded by the police often misled people about the rate of increase in crime. National crime victimization surveys There are two common sources of crime statistics.The first is data on crimes recorded by the police; these tend to be the easiest to use, since they are readily available, and they have an apparent consistency to them, since they are published annually and thus invite comparisons with what happened in previous years.
The second major source is periodic surveys, either of victims of crime or of the population at large, which are usually done on a sample basis. This means, of course, that they are subject to all the problems usually associated with simple surveys, plus some particular difficulties which arise from the nature of their subject matter.Given the well-known limitations to police recorded crime statistics, many countries have established official crime victimization surveys. They attempt to shed light on the dark figure of crime by asking samples of people directly about their experiences of crime victimization.
In the United States, the National Crime Victimization Survey was established in 1972 and is now conducted annually. The first national crime victimization survey in Britain, the British Crime Survey (BCS) was carried out in 1982, with further surveys in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1998.In the 2000 British Crime Survey, close to 23,000 people aged 16 and over were interviewed. From 2001 the BCS moved to an annual cycle with 40,000 respondents to be interviewed per year. The BCS measures the amount of crime in England and Wales by asking people about crimes they have experienced in the past year.
It asks about people’s attitudes to crime, such as how much they fear crimes and what measures they take to avoid it. It also asks about people’s attitude to the criminal justice system, including the police and the courts.The survey findings are published in a variety of specialist reports available online on the Home Office Website and complete datasets of primary data are available for secondary analysis and can be obtained from the University of Essex data archive (UK Data Archive). The questions used in the British Crime Survey are also published online by the Question Bank at the University of Survey.
For some crimes, the BCS estimates of their extent far exceed the numbers recorded in police statistics. The racist incidents provide a useful exemplar to illustrate the point.For 1999, the British Crime Survey estimated that there had been nearly six times as many racially motivated incidents as the number recorded by the police. most interestingly, while the police statistics show a sharp increase in the number of racist incidents in the 1990s, a comparison of the estimates for the 1995 and 1999 British Crime Survey actually shows a decline, suggesting that the increase in recorded racial incidents recorded incidents recorded by the police is a combination of the increased willingness by victims to report them and improved police recording practice. Clancy et al.
2001).Comparison of BCS estimated of other crimes from 2002 to 2003 interviews with recorded crime statistics for 2002 reveals varying levels of difference. Crime Trends in Britain Britain has probably seen itself historically as a country where crime rates are relatively low, and where respect for the forces of law and order is quite widespread; although, it is now clear that the first part of that proportion in comparison with the USA is open to challenge, which will inevitably also undermine the second part.Nevertheless, crime prevention has broadly been seen as a consequence until recent times as being the territory of the police’ it was really not until Home Office Circular 8/84 (issued in 1984) placed as emphasis on multi-agency approaches in the wake, among other things of an investigation into a wave of civil disturbances in many of Britain’s inner cities in 1981 that this perception could clearly be seen to be changing (McLaughlin and Muncie, 1996, p. 293-331).
This changing perception may well have been related to emerging evidence that putting more resources into policing, the criminal justice system and the prison system did not appear to be stemming what was seen as a growing tide of crime. Thus, for example, smith (Herbert & Smith 1989) reported that recorded crime in England and Wales rose by 63 percent between the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s, whereas clear-up rates fell from 45 percent in 1970 to 31 percent in 1985. The 1998 and the 2000 British Crime Survey allows the researchers to bring this material nearly up to date.It shows the pattern of crimes recorded in the regular British Crime surveys carried out for the Home Office between 1981 and 1999, with the four selected categories being responsible for about 50 percent of the total number of crimes recorded in the British Crime Survey. Overall, the 1981-1995 periods saw crime numbers grow by over 70 percent, before the last two survey years of the 1990s saw successive reductions from the 1995 peak. Nonetheless, the long-term trend was still upwards, with the overall number of crimes recorded by British Crime Surveys growing by one-third between 1981 and 1999.
In rank order terms, the biggest growth rates by types of crimes recorded over the period 1981-1995 were for all vehicle thefts, followed respectively by burglary, common assault and vandalism; it is noticeable that both of the top two categories have very specific environmental dimensions to them. This precise rank order is repeated in terms of the scale of the falls recorded between 1995 and 1999, with the figures respectively being 32 percent for all vehicle thefts, 27 percent for burglary, 22 percent for common assault and 17 percent for vandalism.It is probably too soon on the basis of two Survey years worth of data to conclude that Britain has permanently reversed its long-term pattern of a significant growth in the crime rate, especially since the absolute level remains well above that for 1981, but clearly the downturn recorded by the 1997 and 1999 results is very welcome to all parties after well over a decade of seemingly inexorable growth. In the 1990s, looks at crime rates, either per 1,000 adults or per 1,000 households, with a particular concentration on the charges recorded in the most recent British Crime Surveys in the 1990s.Crime rates rose between 1981 and 1993, and then fell back between 1993 and 1999; although in the case of common assault 1995 saw a further rise from 1993 before falling back. In all cases except that of vandalism, 1999 rates were still well above those recorded for 1981; for vandalism, the figure for 1997 was below that for 1981, and 1999 showed a further fall.
It should be noted in interpreting the majority of these figures that average household sizes were falling in Britain over the 1981-1997period to continue to fall; this will have an effect on future crimes rates measured per household.The 1998 British Crime survey also contains some useful information on what it describes as unequal risks; this is continued in the 2000 Survey although it is not presented in the same way. The point has already been made that the risk of being on the receiving end of burglary is much less in British cities for people living in one of the more affluent suburban areas than for hose living in one of the poorest inner city municipal estates; this broad pattern is confirmed by the 1998 Survey results.Table 2. 14 picks out some key elements in this pattern of unequal risk of being on the receiving end of burglary by looking at pairs of results, which demonstrate vividly the differences in risks in these terms; basically, being young, being unemployed, living in a flat or maisonette, living in the inner city, living in a municipal housing area, and living on a main road are all risk factors.