The History of Crime Statistics


Crime statistics may be regarded as accounts of criminal behavior or criminals within a given city, country or location - The History of Crime Statistics introduction. Usually, crime statistics are required in order to provide an in depth explanation of crime. They are also avenues for explaining why crime occurs, consequently, they can also act as mechanisms for deterring or at least controlling crime. When people have an idea about the level of crime in their locations, then they are more likely to look for ways of preventing them. (Schmalleger, 2008)

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History of Crime statistics

Crime Statistics started as far back as the seventeenth century. At that time, society was governed by religious rather than scientific principles. Consequently, authorities put down records of crime and criminal behavior just so that they could establish how much sin was prevalent in their societies. This reason continued to be their sole driving force until society entered the eighteenth century.

In the nineteenth century, it was necessary to assess just how moral society was. This was mostly done through the use of figures and numbers in other words; through the use of statistics. The latter sector caused a diversion into the field of moral statistics. In 1825, France had rough estimates of the occurrence of crime in their territory. This was a wide data base that was labeled as the moral status of this country. Because of this rapid advancement into crime, it was inevitable for France to produce one of the first sociologists who specialized in crime. An example of a pioneer in Crime Statistics was a French man such as Michel Guerry. The work of the latter author continued to spread into other parts of the world such as in Europe. In fact, a large number of European sociologists in crime statistics got their influences directly from the latter mentioned Frenchman.

The United States began embracing crime statistics much later than its counterparts. Part of the reason for this was because the nation came into existence at a much later date than other ancient territories. At the beginning the largest share of crime statistics in the US was a collection of court persecutions and prison statistics. The first state to illustrate this enthusiasm for crime statistics was New York during the year 1829. At that time, they mostly dwelt on statistics collected from courts. However, at the beginning of the next century about twenty four other states had also began publishing their own crime statistics. Additionally, these states would mostly dwell on judicial information. (Crime recording, 2005)

The issue of imprisonment was a particularly interesting one for many US states. Some states such as Massachusetts began collecting prison statistics as far back as 1834. A significant number of states in the rest of the country began collecting theirs during the year 1900. At this time, it became necessary to collect national data about crime. The first national crime statistics on prison populations began in the year 1850. This was done through censuses that would be repeated after a period of ten years. Historical collections of such statistics indicate the following information related to crime:

·         Sex

·         Birthplace

·         Literacy status

·         Occupation

·         Year of committing the offense

Through these figures, it was possible to place an offender’s behavior in context.

As years went by into the end of nineteenth century, a number of European tastes began conducting national censuses that presented them with a series of challenges. These forced most of these nations to look for alternatives that would assist them in the process of data collection.

The first issue that had been laid out by a series of stakeholders was the fact that depending on prison and court records alone as a means of measuring crime in society was insufficient. Consequently, there was a need to look for other avenues that would assist in the process. Besides this, it was also imperative to realize that a substantial portion of the crime statistics could not indicate the overall distribution of crime within one’s country or region. (Crime recording, 2005)

As if the latter issues were not enough, their way of collecting crime statistics presented a scenario in which one found extremely difficult to understand the full picture of crime because a number of crimes had the following characteristics

·         Some were unreported

·         Some had occurred but had not been dealt with legally

·         Some had not yet been detected

·         Some had been detected but had not been recorded

Many people knew that sometimes law enforcers would be informed about a certain crime but not all of them would solicit action from the police. Consequently, there were problems with the current crime statistics system. Besides this, it was also a known fact that certain persons would be arrested by police but not all of them would be taken to court and prosecuted for their actions. Even when suspects were convicted, there were still some who were not imprisoned. The overall result of this approach was that people could no longer be sure about the accuracy of their crime statistics.

In the first parts of the twentieth century, many scholars believed that official records were fairly accurate depictions of the levels of crime within their respective countries owing to a certain assumption. Their assumption was that the numbers of people who had not been reported, recorded, convicted or imprisoned was fairly small compared to those criminals that were found in official records. Consequently, since this ratio was small, then one could ignore all the latter unknown facts and concentrate on official reporting. This assumption was gravely misleading thus causing a number of people to re-examine how they treated crime in their respective areas.

In response to this disparity in evidence, many European nations resorted to a secondary source for information on crime; this happened to be the police. Police statistics had started as early as the eighteen fifties in Great Britain. However, the United States began adopting this system more seriously than the latter nation. This is because the US was highly dissatisfied with how crime was being dealt with in the country.

American sociologist and crime expert August Vollmeer asserted that the further the crime is from the index collectors; the more likely that statistic is to depict inaccurate index measures. Consequently, the latter expert suggested that the US ought to adopt a national collection of data based on crime known or associated with the police. The latter assertion was made in the year 1920. (Crime recording, 2005)

Seven years after this proposal, a team known as the Association of Chiefs of Police began creating a system in which crime statistics could be collected from a series of police records of all know and arrested criminals or records of crime. In the year 1931, The Federal Bureau of Investigation was assigned with this task and they began publishing annual figures that have been maintained to date. These figures are known as the Uniform Crime Reports.

A commission known as Wickersham made a statement that changed the face of crime statistics within the country. They asserted that the most reliable source of crime statistics was police statistics. This meant that all the offenders/offenses that police were aware of became very reliable sources of crime statistics.

In other words, one can assert that the United States was one of the most influential countries in spearheading the revolution of crime statistics. It should be noted here that European nations were still conservative in their approach during the early twentieth century. Most of them collected statistics known to the police but few of them regarded these statistics as reliable sources of assessing crime indices within the country. Great Britain was rather slow in their approach because they only began using a US like crime system during the nineteen thirties. Their counterparts in Europe were much slower because they began adopting this system as late as the mid twentieth century. This was a system that could only be adopted thanks to the evidence based results that had been depicted in the United States. (Crime recording, 2005)

The reason behind this move could be explained by what some sociologists called the axiom of crime. In other words, when collecting crime statistics (or any other statistics for that matter), it is essential for one to get as close as possible to the crime. In this case, the police are much closer to criminal offenses than the judicial system or even the prison systems. In other words, when creating a hierarchy of most reliable sources of data, it can be asserted that the police are the most reliable because they are the closest party to the crime.

This is then followed by the prosecutors or judicial system. When arrests have been made, then the matter of conviction is then handed down to this group. After a conviction has then been made, then criminals are taken to the prison system where they serve their sentences. Consequently, police forces are as close as one can get to actual crimes committed because they are the lowest in protocol and they represent the first direct contact that are made upon realization of a crime.

However, it should be noted that it has not been a smooth road for collection of national crime statistics within the country. This is because there are still certain weaknesses that have been reported in the past. First of all, some people asserted that the police may decide to change crime statistics so as to portray themselves in a positive light. When there are fewer crimes than before, then chances are that the police may appear as if they are doing their work properly. Additionally, it is also likely that the highest percentage of individuals currently facing these problems have nothing to do with it.

Another problem with reliance on police statistics alone is the fact that a series of local units exist; some of them may report crime in such a varying manner that it can become increasingly difficult to create a national system. This is the reason why a neutral party was created to neutralize this process; the neutral party was known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Following the weaknesses that emanate out of relying on only one party, it became necessary for the nation to embrace severe scrutiny from external parties. This is the reason why the country now has a series of experts that check on official crime statistics and analyze them against the background of their own research. This has gone a long way in boosting the credibility of the FBI in this regard. (Schmalleger, 2008)

It should also be noted that with the passage of time, crime statistics have now become a platform against which the country can use for problem solving. This means that the validity and technical quality of crime statistics have been improving over the years. Consequently, stakeholders in crime control can use these parameters for curbing crime statistics.


Crime statistics started as moral statistics. These were then developed to crime statistics through collection of judicial and prison statistics. Eventually the world began adopting police statistics that reduced proximity from the crime and enhanced reliability of the data


Crime recording (2005): Improving quality of crime records; Audit commission report, No. 12, pp 79

Schmalleger, F. (2008): Criminology Today, 4th Edition, ISBN-10

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