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History of Crime Measurement vs. Contemporary Situation Research Paper

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Updated: May 10th, 2022

According to Czabanski (2008), the impact of crime in the society has not been fully established. The question of crime measurement has largely developed from the establishment of different measurement techniques that have for a long time been used to estimate the cost of crime to the society. It can be argued that the methods of estimating cost of crime to the society have been improving with time. Ancient methods focused on measurement of crime through assessment of the direct impact of crime. This was a shallow way of measuring the cost of crime since it only focused on a constricted scale of damage caused by crime (Hough, 2002). The failure of the ancient methods has been a reason for continued improvement in the development of advanced tools for measuring crime in society. Recent methods of crime measurement are quite open in nature. They focus on the direct costs, as well as indirect costs such as assessment of the economic effects of crime on market operations (Czabanski, 2008).

Criminal record proceedings have existed for a considerable period of time. As early as 19th century, social statistics on crime were derived from criminal court proceedings. Criminal court convictions were a denominator for measuring crime in the society. Proceedings are still used in assessing crime in the modern times. The main difference in this measure of crime in the modern times is that a large number of criminal cases are brought to court, unlike in the past where few cases were presented in criminal courts. In a considerable number of cases, early communities preferred to utilize local criminal settlement systems such as arbitration (Czabanski, 2008).

Development of policies and bureaucracies towards mid 19th century promoted the recording of crimes by police. This is how statistics on crime came into existence. Wales and England are termed as the main benchmarks in the development of crime measurement since they were the first jurisdictions to gather statistics on crime by instructing their police forces to maintain annual records of crime. Other countries in mainland Europe only came in later in the 20th century and aped the practice from England and Wales. Since then, police statistics have remained as one of the most reliable guides that are used to ascertain the level of crimes that are committed in a given country. This argument was the basis on which the UCR was developed in mid 20th century as one of the main methods of collecting data on crime in the United States and other countries in Europe. The problems of developing a comprehensive record of crimes began as early as a century ago. These problems were witnessed in Wales and England (Hough, 2002), and they include:

  • Failure of victims to report crimes to the police.
  • The failure of police to accept a number of crime counts that were reported.
  • The rejection by police to record a number of crime counts reported.

Due to the numerous reports on the failure to utilize police statistics as a source of data on crimes, several countries have encouraged the use of crime surveys. The first crime survey in the world was done back in the 17th century in Arhus, Denmark. However, comprehensive crime surveys are a phenomenon of recent times. These surveys became common towards the end of the 20th century and have gained strong grounds in this century. The first UK crime survey was done in the year 1981. Since then, a series of surveys have been done in the United Kingdom and other countries around the world (Hough, 2002; Farrington, Langan & Tonry, 2004).

The contemporary situation in crime measurement

By the very nature of crime, it is quite a daunting task to measure crimes. This is seen in crime incidences where immediate victims do not present themselves to report the crimes. In such cases, a substantial number of crimes are not put on record. Research in criminal justice points out that a substantial number of crimes today still go unreported. The reason for this is that the criminal justice system generally relies on victims to report crime. It can be argued that this is one of the greatest weaknesses of the criminal justice system across the globe. Victims do not report most crimes because they, sometimes, think that some crimes are too minute to be brought to the attention of law enforcers. Therefore, the law enforcers mostly make their statistics on crime by relying on the cases that are reported to them by the victims or witnesses. There is also another thing that raises eyebrows in the contemporary system of crime measurement; there is a widening gap in the nature of crimes that are committed. These crimes have different impacts on communities, families and individuals. This makes it increasingly difficult to enlist the impact of crime using a single statistical method (Catalano, 2006).

As it is today in the global criminal justice system, it can be said that there is no standardized way of estimating the cost of crimes. However, it has been noted that crime measurement is a critical step in the development of crime policy, as well as the analysis of the principles and doctrines of criminal law. Research that has been conducted across several countries shows that each country has developed its system of measuring crime. Important decisions on how to improve the criminal justice system are made based on the crime cost assessment reports (Czabanski, 2008). In the United States, for instance, each state has its guidelines that are used to estimate and assess cost of crime. However, these guidelines are developed from the wider system of crime measurement that has been set by the federal government. It is critical to observe that several countries like the United States, United Kingdom and Canada among others have been making efforts of standardizing the measurement of crime incidences.

The accuracy in measuring crime incidences depends on the methods that are utilized in the collection of crime data. Therefore, a lot of efforts in crime measurement have been diverted to the development of effective methods of crime data collection. The main constraining factor in the measurement of crime in the contemporary times is the fact that there exist different types of crimes. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has found it difficult to characterize white collar crime. This implies that new crimes keep coming up, forcing the criminal justice system to develop new categories of crimes. The more new categories of crimes come up, the more difficult it becomes to achieve a standardized system of collecting data on crime and the subsequent measurement of crime (MacDonald, 2011).

According to Statistics Canada (2009), there are two broad methods or sources of information that are used for monitoring the severity of crime in the United States and other countries. The first method is the Uniformed Crime Reporting. This is derived from the crimes that are reported by uniformed services, police. Usage of this source for crime measurement began in the early 1960s and has been in use up-to-date. The other source of data for crime reporting that gained usage in the late 1980s is the victimization data (Mosher, Miethe, & Phillips, 2002). This data is often collected via the General Social Survey. The data is based on the explanation of crime encounters by people. The Uniformed Crime Reporting is the basis upon which crimes are measured. This method of crime data collection is used in different countries across the globe, for instance in the United States and Canada (Levitt, 1998).

In the United States, the UCR is backed by other crime data collection programs. These are the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Incident-Based Reporting System. The programs are the basis upon which policies concerning funding of the criminal justice systems of the states are made by the US congress. In Canada, a new method of collecting data on crime incidences in the country was devised in the year 2009. This new tool of measuring crimes is known as the Crime Severity Index. It is used to measure police-reported crimes in the country. It is also an improvement on the UCR since it not only puts into consideration the volume of crime, but also the level of crime. The rationale behind the development of this method of crime measurement is that the other crime data collection methods focus on only a single feature of crime, the volume of crime. This new method of crime measurement in Canada is argued to be the first improvement that has ever been made to the system. The new method is used to measure police-reported crime since the time reporting and measurement of police crime began in 1960s. The system captures changes in the overall severity of crime across a number of years. It also measures the relative variations in the levels of severity of crime in the whole country. This tool of crime measurement has been applauded for its ability to capture evolution in the nature of crime. This backs the point that new categories of crime keep coming up in different countries (Statistics Canada, 2009).

Main limitations and strengths in the measurements of crime in contemporary times


Research shows that measurement of crime is something that is still under improvement through the continued establishment of different methods of crime data collection and assessment. As it is today, a wide number of methods have already been developed and used to measure crimes in different countries in the world. As mentioned earlier in this report, the UCR is one of the methods of crime measurement that has been used across different countries. The UCR still remains to be a strong basis upon which crime data are attained (United States, 2004). The UCR is widely used as the main parameter for gathering crime data by police across different countries. The main strengths of UCR are in the fact that it remains to be the fundamental method of recording crime (Miller, 2009). Therefore, all the weaknesses that are associated with reporting of crime also come out as pitfalls of this method of crime measurement. The main weakness of UCR is that it is not analytical in nature. Instead, it only relies on gathering voluminous statistics on crime. Also, a lot of crimes go unreported and unrecorded when this method is used. Therefore, the method only offers shallow data on crime. The other shortfall of this method concerns its use; the UCR does not factor the issue of police ratio to the public in crime zones (Levitt, 1998).

Crime Severity Index

The recent method that is perhaps the most improved method of measuring crime is the Crime Severity Index, which was developed in 2008 in Canada. The Crime Severity Index is deemed to be analytical in nature. The additional feature in this method of crime measurement is that it assesses the severity of crime, in addition to the normal volume of crime that is recorded under the UCR. Changes in the course of crime over a certain period are given consideration. This is further analyzed in order to present a reflection of the data on crime in the entire country. Although it is deemed to be analytical in nature, this method heavily relies on the statistics of the UCR (Lynch & Addington, 2007); therefore, it is still affected by the shortfalls of the UCR. The Crime Severity Index does not only measure the volume of crime. This method of crime measurement is still largely practiced in Canada where it was developed. However, there exist high prospects of the system being modified and used in other countries in the region. It is more detailed, thus it is considered to be a comprehensive means through which a country can attain desirable and quality data on crime (Mooney, 2012).

Impetus for the development of new techniques of crime measurement

The new techniques of measuring crime keep coming up in various countries across the world. Several reasons are tied to the continued development of these new techniques of measuring the cost of crime in the society. One reason that has been attributed to the development of diverse tools of measuring crime is the increased need to enhance the criminal justice systems of different countries in the world. This is done through change of policy on crime. This reason is synonymous with the developments in the United States, where the US Congress makes important policies on criminal justice by following the information that is provided by the available tools of crime measurement. Therefore, there is a pressing need for comprehensive data on crime in the United States in order to encourage formulation of comprehensive policies on the US criminal justice system across all the states. The UCR could not provide the required tools, thus the country embraced the formulation of other crime measurement programs like the National Crime Victimization Survey, as well the Incident-Based Reporting System. All these are meant to complement the current systems of crime data collection and measurement. The national crime surveys capture the social harms of crimes, besides the other direct impact of crimes (Hough, 2002).

The other point to note is that the impact of crime in the society is broadening, which is the reason for introduction of cost-benefit analysis in criminal justice. This implies the need for real quantification of the impacts of crime on societal systems. Real quantification of crimes can only be attained when there is comprehensive data that can be used to assess the impact of crime on society. Such data should be able to capture all types of crimes, including the dynamics in social crime reporting. When this is attained, rational and scientifically driven judgments can be made in the criminal justice system (Cohen, 2000).

Relevant people in the development of crime measurement

Developments in crime measurement have been enhanced by both scholars, as well as organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These individuals and institutions have made attempts to bring out the different classes of crimes and how they can be quantified. Mosher, Miethe and Philips (2002) have made a significant contribution to crime measurement. They documented the three main sources of data on crime. These include police records, self-report offender surveys and victimization surveys. The researchers further critiqued each source of data, thereby giving a clear pointer to the need for development of better methods of measuring crime. Lynch and Addington (2007) explained the differences between data from diverse sources, especially the victimization surveys and police sources. This gives researchers in the field a basis on which to analyse the diverse sources of data on crime. Farirington, Langan and Tonry (2004) described the development of crime data sources in different countries. This cross national survey of crime data was vital in understanding the developments that have happened and are needed in crime measurement in different countries.


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Farrington, D. P., Langan, P. A., & Tonry, M. (2004). Cross-national studies of crime and justice. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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MacDonald, J. M. (2011). Measuring crime & criminality. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

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Mooney, L. A. (2012). Understanding social problems. Toronto: Nelson Education.

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Statistics Canada. (2009). Web.

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