Chapter Three: The Nature and Extent of Crime

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Woodsworth College Courses
Scot Wortley

1 Chapter 3: The Nature and Extent of Crime - the factors that cause criminal behaviour are different from those forces that affect what we know about crime - crime rates are affected by 5 factors: (1) some crimes are report sensitive: willingness of the public to report the crime determines whether we know about it (2) policing-sensitive: crimes reflect the level of police enforcement (3) definition-sensitive: change in the law changes the rate (4) media sensitive: causes a feedback loop when they are publicized, changing the perceptions of the public and their willingness to report (5) real trends in the number of crimes in society; leads us to ask what causes crime The Uniform Crime Report Pg.62 - Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics has collection information on crime reported by the police every year since 1962 through UCR (Uniform Crime Reports) - 1984: UCR revised in order to collect more data with detailed info - Revised version UCR2 gives the police and public more specific sense of how and why offences occur - Incident based data: compared to aggregate UCR crime data, it provides data on factors such as location of offence and relationship between offender and victim Collecting the UCR - each month police agencies report to the CCJS the incidence or number of crimes known to them - official crime count is taken from all complaints of crime received from victims themselves or officers - crime data based represents only what police known about the crime; some crimes are never detected and others are not reports to the police - standard way to display the incidence of crime is to show all the crimes reported to the police that are felt to be founded - actual number of crimes reported to the police and arrests made are expressed as raw figures - percentage change: amount of crime between years is computed - percentage change is important because it is a soft indicator of whether society is becoming more dangerous - crime rate: dividing the total crimes by populations which enables changes in population to be ignored - crimes / population x 100,000 = rate - 2007: national crime rate was its lowest is had bee in 30 years - Property offences account for about two-thirds of all crime, however, beginning in the mid 1980s, proportion began to shift - Crime rates have increased moving from east to west across Canada - Crime rates in Atlantic provinces are no surpassing those in Ontario and Quebec - Hartnagel suggests that provinces and territories with a high rate of in-migration have higher rates of property and violent crime because geographic mobility produces weakened informal social control - Large-scale changes in the economy combined with rapid change in population are destabilizing - Crimes are cleared in two ways: (1) when at least one person is arrested, charged and turned over to the court for prosecution (2) when some element beyond police control precludes the physical arrest of an offender - attrition: decrease in cases as they make their way through the criminal justice system; number of cases investigated by police that result in convictions is small percentage of total - crime funnel: as cases move further into justice system, the number of cases being dealt with gradually drop 2 The Accuracy of the UCR Pg.65 Reporting Practices - many serious crimes are not reported to police by victims and do not become part of UCR - likelihood of individuals reporting crimes, vary by crime - difficulties posed by under-reporting, victimization surveys are used to measure the number of crimes not reported to the police - UCR data significantly under represents the total number of annual criminal events Law Enforcement Practices Pg. 66 - Boosting police efficiency and professionalism may also increase crime rate - Higher crime rates may occur as departments adopt more sophisticated computer-aided technology and hire better educated and better trained employees - Rising crime rate; artefact police record-keeping ability - 1983: differences in charge rates in provinces and territories because of discretion on the part of the police - What appears to be a rising crime rate may be an artefact of improved police record-keeping ability - National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) created charges in police recording practices and inflated the numbers of crimes in the British Crime Survey - The way in which police enforce laws affects crime rate - Some research shows that drug enforcement is higher in jurisdictions where forfeiture laws allow police to retain seized assets Legal Definitions - changes to the law also affect crime rates - before 1983: a man could not be charged with sexually assaulting his wife - Youth criminal Justice Act (YCJA) diverts youths who have committed non-violent crimes from the formal criminal justice system - 1969: Canada introduced breathalyser legislation which criminalized impaired driving over a blood alcohol content limit of 80 mg of alcohol in 100mL of blood Media Practices Pg. 67 - The effect of the media - Often hear random crimes committed in public by strangers against innocent victims; encourages the perception that crime is random - Explanation of the discrepancy between the reality of dropping rates of youth crime and the perception that youth crime is out of control is media coverage - Media may distort the frequency of youth crime, causing unease on the part of the public - Today the media influence the timing and wording of press releases, the type of statistics used and the types of information presented Methodological Problems Pg. 69 - methodological issues raise questions about the accuracy of the UCR - definition of crime can change - non-violent crimes are under-reported - cases are screened as unfounded and founded - the notation cleared by charge may not be made in the month of the offence was committed - reports can sometimes vary in accuracy and completeness - if an offender commits multiple crimes, only the most serious is recorded - each act is listed as a single offence for some crimes but not for others Self Report Surveys Pg. 703 - limits of official statistics have led criminologists to seek alternative sources of information to measure crime patterns - self report surveys: a research approach that requires subjects to reveal their own participation in delinquent or criminal acts - asks participants to reveal information about their law violations The Focus of Self-Reports - most self-report studies are focused on juvenile delinquency - (1) the school setting makes it convenient to test thousands of subjects simultaneously, all of them with the means - (2) because school attendance is universal, a school based self report survey is an estimate of the activities of a cross section of the community - Self reports can assess the number of frequency of people who have committed illegal acts - Self reports also allow for evaluation of the distribution of criminal behaviour across racial, class and gender lines The Accuracy of Self-Reports - methodological issues about their accuracy - people will not candidly admit illegal acts - some people may exaggerate their criminal acts, forget acts or be confused about what is being asked - cannot be certain how valid self-report studies are because we have nothing reliable to measure them against - official statistics can show a declining youth crime rate, while self-report and survey data show the opposite The Missing Case Issue Pg.71 - researchers dont know whether the few who refuse to participate or who are absent that day make up a significant portion of the schools population of persistent high-rate offenders - school surveys also fail to count incarce
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