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Chapter 2: Defining and Measuring Crime and Criminal Justice

  • Page ID
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    • Contributed by Alison S. Burke, David Carter, Brian Fedorek, Tiffany Morey, Lore Rutz-Burri, & Shanell Sanchez
    • Professors (Criminology and Criminal Justice) at Southern Oregon University
    • Sourced from OpenOregon

    Learning Objectives

    After reading this section, students will be able to:

    • Develop an understanding of the different data sources used to gather precise and accurate measures of crime
    • Recognize the difference between official or reported statistics, self-report statistics, and victimization statistics
    • Evaluate the reliability of statistics and data heard about the criminal justice system

    In the previous section, we spent much time trying to understand how to define crime, whereas this section will focus on the task of measuring crime. Measuring crime is quite complex and requires an understanding of different data sets and how we use them. Defining crime seems complex, but measuring crime is just as complicated of a task. Without crime, there is no need for the criminal justice system. We must have a clear and accurate understanding of crime in order to create effective policies to combat it or help minimize it. This section will teach students how to obtain accurate measures of crime so that they can be an informed citizen. Further, if we have an accurate picture of crime and trends, we can better predict the needs of our society, such as increased patrol, rehabilitation services, and more. We will also spend some time talking about evidence-based practices, discussed in greater detail later.

    Critical Thinking Questions

    1. What are the three different types of data sources we often rely on in CJ?
    2. What are the strengths and limitations of each data source?
    3. Identify when each type of data source would be appropriate for different crimes and why.

    • 2.1: Dark or Hidden Figure of Crime
      When victims of crime do not report, or police are not made aware of a crime these crimes go uncounted in the official statistics. They become part of the ‘dark figure of crime‘ that we will learn about throughout this section.
    • 2.2: Official Statistics
      Official statistics are gathered from various criminal justice agencies, such as the police and courts, and represent the total number of crimes reported to the police or the number of arrests made by that agency. Remember, if an officer uses discretion and does not arrest a person, even if a crime was committed, this does not get reported.
    • 2.3: Victimization Studies
      Victimization studies attempt to fill in where police reports are missing by asking people if they have been a victim of a crime in a given year, reported or not. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the primary source of information on criminal victimization in the United States. The NCVS helps fill in gaps that the UCR and NIBRS cannot fill in because that data is only crimes known to police.
    • 2.4: Self-Report Statistics
      Self-report statistics are stats that are reported by individuals. Self-report statistics get gathered when people are asked to report the number of times they may have committed a particular crime during a set period in the past, regardless of getting caught or not. For example, in-class students take a criminal activity checklist and report behaviors they have engaged in at some point in their lives. People should be honest since the data has no identifying information collected.
    • 2.5: Misusing Statistics
      The misuse of statistics promotes crime myths and generates fear of crime. There are various ways that we can misuse statistics, such as limiting public access to critical information, intending to mislead the public by presenting false information, or using deceptive formats to present information.