Study Notes

Ways of Measuring Crime

A Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

It is important to consider the frequency of criminal activity across the country, so that one can observe if crime levels change over time or where they appear to happen the most. There are three main ways that crime is measured by forensic psychologists and these include both quantitative and qualitative measures.

Official Statistics

the Office for National Statistics is responsible for collecting a wide range of quantitative data on varying areas of interest. It holds the information on current crime surveys carried out on victims (see below), as well as those recorded by the police. Some of the areas of crime covered include criminal damage, property crime, drug crime as well as physical and sexual crime.

Victim Surveys

One of the largest victim surveys carried out in the UK is the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), which was previously known as the British Crime Survey and can be found online. It is a face-to-face survey which collects data from 50,000 households in the UK (2016/17), who are selected at random through a “postcode lottery”. This means that not all households will be interviewed and also participants have the right to withdraw or refuse to be interviewed. Adults and children are questioned on their experiences of crime and questions are followed up to obtain their attitudes on crime and the police, as well as to help identify those groups most at risk.

Offender Surveys

These surveys are designed to take information from offenders, often those in prison, in order to develop an understanding of the behaviour and attitudes of offenders. The Offending Crime and Justice Survey (OCJS) was a longitudinal study carried out between 2003 and 2006. It took data from a variety of areas including self-reported offending, indicators of recidivism (repeat offending) and the types of offences committed. By interviewing a range of young offenders looking back over the previous years, they identified specific trends in anti-social behaviour, namely a peak between the ages of 14 and 16, and the relationship between offending behaviour and the use of drugs or alcohol. This kind of data helps researchers to identify potential risk factors and develop ways to prevent a person from becoming an offender, for example through treatment programmes targeted at certain age groups.

Key Study: The Crime Survey for England and Wales (2016)

Aim: To investigate victim experiences of crime and attitudes towards crime and the legal system in England and Wales.

Method: As noted previously, those surveyed were asked questions on a range of different crimes. This year (2016) questions on fraud and computer misuse were added to the list.

Results: Overall the CSEW collected data on 6.3 million incidences of crime since the previous year, suggesting a 6% decrease in criminal activity. Comparatively, the police recorded 4.5 million crimes between March 2015 and 2016, which indicated an annual rise of 8%. The CSEW showed no significant changes in the number of physical or sexual assaults since the previous year, while the police reported an increase.

Conclusion: The data helps us to understand trends in society concerning crime and to particularly see whether there are increases or decreases in criminal behaviour. The introduction of questions on fraud and computer misuse is interesting for future analysis but wasn’t used fully in this bulletin as it was only used in the second half of the data collection. For future reference, it will add more to the CSEW, but also highlights the changing face of crime.


Official statistics are considered fairly limited as they are easily skewed by data which is omitted such as unreported crime and categories of crime which do not necessarily get brought up in a simple survey or questionnaire. This is why victim and offender surveys are considered useful as they can give more accurate details about crimes which may not get reported in the official statistics.

As with any survey, there is an issue of honesty in those being questioned. Since the CSEW claims that 4 in 10 crimes don’t get reported, what is to stop those 6 in 10 not reporting crimes holding back in an interview? The CSEW argue that their data is invaluable for this reason as it gives people the opportunity to talk honestly without fear of repercussions. However, critics may argue that there could still be a reluctance to put forward fully their experiences or attitudes, particularly if complete honesty would implicate the victim in criminal activity as well.

Another issue with surveys is that the company conducting the research may be given a random pool of participants to approach, but it is up to them whether or not they take part. On the CSEW website, they note that they must rely on the “goodwill” of individuals to agree to be a part of the research. This is a problem if many people decide that they don’t wish to, resulting in a diminished sample size.

Offender surveys are likely to be limited by the honesty of their respondents, perhaps even more so than victim surveys. However, there is debate over this as some argue that an offender may be more likely to be honest in order to use the information to their advantage, while others suggest that they will be reluctant to give up information that implicates another person.

Critical Thinking

Why might people not report a crime? While there are plenty of crimes that get reported to the police, the CSEW estimates that 4 in 10 crimes are not reported. What reasons might people have for not reporting a crime? How does this affect the reliability of official statistics?

Has there been an increase or a decrease in crime? The data from the CSEW appears to be conflicting. However, this is the benefit of carrying out victim surveys. As noted previously, it is estimated by the CSEW that 4 in 10 crimes don’t actually get reported. Further to this, they suggest that police recording of crime has improved over the last year. This information can help us to more accurately understand the data, but also raises a question mark over whether the victim surveys are likely to be completely honest.

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