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Is Crime Rising or Falling? A Comparison of Police-Recorded Crime and Victimization Surveys

Methods of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research

ISBN: 978-1-78769-866-6, eISBN: 978-1-78769-865-9

Publication date: 26 August 2019


Purpose – Statistics about the level of crime continue to attract public and political attention but are often presented in conflicting ways. In England and Wales, police-recorded crimes are no longer considered “national statistics” and, instead, the crime survey of England and Wales (CSEW) is used. However, it is not clear why partial population data (e.g., police-recorded crime) are considered less reliable or valid for measuring temporal crime trends in society than inferential statistical estimation models that are based on samples such as CSEW. This is particularly the case for approximating rare events like high-harm violence and specific harmful modus operandi (e.g., knife crime and firearms). In this chapter, the authors cross-reference victim survey and police-recorded data to determine similarities and contradictions in trends.

Methods – Using police data and CSEW estimates, the authors contrast variance and logarithmic trend lines since 1981 across a range of data categories and then triangulate the results with assault records from hospital consultations.

Findings – Change in crime rates in recent years is neither as unique nor extreme as promulgated in media coverage of crime. Moreover, analyses show conflicting narratives with a host of plausible but inconclusive depictions of the “actual” amount of crime committed in the society. The authors also conclude that neither source of data can serve as the benchmark of the other. Thus, both data systems suffer from major methodological perils, and the estimated crime means in CSEW, inferred from samples, are not necessarily more valid or accurate than police-recorded data (particularly for low-frequency and high-harm crimes). On the other hand police-recorded data are susceptible to variations in recording practices. As such, the authors propose a number of areas for further research, and a revised taxonomy of crime classifications to assist with future public interpretations of crime statistics.

Originality – There is much public and academic discourse about different sources of crime measurement yet infrequent analysis of the precise similarities and differences between the methods. This chapter offers a new perspective on long-term trends and highlights an issue of much contemporaneous concern: rising violent crime.



Ariel, B. and Bland, M. (2019), "Is Crime Rising or Falling? A Comparison of Police-Recorded Crime and Victimization Surveys", Deflem, M. and Silva, D.M.D. (Ed.) Methods of Criminology and Criminal Justice Research (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 24), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 7-31.



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