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Why Official Crime Statistics are Inaccurate

Updated on July 5, 2015

Official Crime Statistics

Official crime statistics are usually the police-recorded crime statistics. This is because police is the official force unit to respond to crime and to capture criminals. Also, whenever there's a crime where we cannot handle by ourselves, we almost always request help from the police. The police force is bestowed with the special power to apprehend criminals and this power is what separates a normal kidnap (or false imprisonment) from official capture. These few basic reasons summarise why the official crime statistics are held by the police records.

The police recorded statistics of course have the advantage of wide-coverage, but it should never be seen as reflecting the true image of crime. And the gap between the true volume and known offences is called the dark figure.

Problems with police-recorded statistics

1. Elusive nature of crime

This is a very simple idea. All criminals do not want to be caught. And all police want to catch criminals. It is quite logical that some battles are won by the police, some by the criminals. Usually criminals who remain stealth and escape detection are those in large organised crimes. Their hierarchy can be complicated, they are experienced, and they can buy scapegoats.

Moreover, certain crimes are stealth in nature. These are usually domestic violence, cases like child abuse. Unless the victims choose to report, or reported by nearby residents, it is rather unlikely to be discovered by the police. Victims of rape may also feel embarassed or suffer post traumatic stress disorder and choose to not report to the police, resulting in a distort of crime figures.

2. Prejudice in reporting

The original data collected has to be interpreted and processed before being reported. As such, statistics reported may be dependant on what the particular person feel is important, and may even be subjected to his human error. And human error may occur not only in the reporting stage but also in the data-collecting stage.

The more dangerous problem is how official statistics turned out to become a political charade used by political parties as an instrument to show the effectiveness of their social policies. In order to remain in place, official statistics are often filtered and show a much lesser amount of crimes collected. In the UK, for example, official enquiry revealed that the police failed to record more than 800,000 offences reported to them by the public each year. This is indeed an unhealthy political game that creates and drives performance fraud although sometimes a reduction in crime reported is to deflect possible moral panic.

*On a side point, the police crime figures in the UK has lost their 'gold status' over claims of fiddling

3. Not all crimes are reported by the public

Most of the time, crime recorded is a result of public response. The public called for assistance from the police, notifying this and that crime before a police begins investigation. Think about it. If there's a robbery, the victims then informed the police. If there's a murder, people around the neighbourhood who noticed it informs the police. Police forces usually respond to the call of the public unless the police are on patrol on witness the crime themselves, or the criminals are of high profile (which is likely to be reported by the public for his first-committed crime)

This means that official statistics are quite reliant on the public's response which is in turn affected by a few factors. The public mood is an important factor. Usually the public only report crimes perceived as "serious enough". Petty crimes like common assault and battery have been accepted to be normal daily interaction which are inevitable. And the perception of what is serious is can be influenced by the media.

In addition, the public's faith in the police affects reporting as well. If the public perceives the police as corrupted or racist or lazy or any other reason and consequently lose faith on the police force's ability, then it is likely that they may choose to handle the situation by themselves and omit reporting. As a result, more and more crimes are not shown in the police crime statistics.


In short, the official crime statistics which is usually police-recorded crime figures are usually inaccurate leaving a large amount of dark figure uncovered. Alternatives like victim surveys show that the true volume of crime could be up to 4 times the crimes displayed in police figures (although mostly are petty crimes). As such, while the police crime figures offer a statistics of wide-coverage, it should not be seen as a conclusive proof for the true amount of crime which is happening around us.


This is the section where it is related to official statistics but not truly relevant to this hub.

Functions of official statistics

Official statistics serve as a tool for the measurement of the effectiveness of a particular social policy. It is also seen as the measurement of the "moral health" of a country. In all the things that we do, we require feedback to know if things have improved or otherwise. If we change the engine of a car, we need to test drive it to see the change in performance. Similarly, to know if a particular social or economic policy is useful for preventing crime, the official crime statistics provide the required feedback. However, as discussed above, these feedbacks are not truly accurate and can be tempered with.

For those who have read it so far, thank you so much and have a nice day.


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    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Good points, but I don't ever think we will see true statistics. I would really like to know the degree of error where I live. Stella

    • frozenink profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by Bill (or do you prefer Billy?). I think the scary thing is when that degree of error turns out to be a huge one.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great points my new friend. National statistics will always have a degree of error...unfortunately, funding is based on that faulty data...and the wheel goes round and round. :)

    • frozenink profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thanks for dropping by, Larry. It's really good to have you around.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      As you pointed out, it's hard to get official stats on crimes because it is an illegal activity, not baseball.

      Very intriguing hub.


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