In This Article Measuring Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Measurement Issues Confronting Offender Data

Criminology Measuring Crime
by
Lynn A. Addington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0057

Introduction

The measurement of crime is an important topic, but it is frequently overlooked by criminologists. This slight is unfortunate, since accurate crime data are needed to adequately test theories of offending and victimization as well as to assess the effectiveness of public policies. The three main sources of crime data include official reports from the police, surveys of victims, and self-reports from offenders. Much of the work assessing how crime is measured focuses on data collected in the United States. Studies of US crime data and its measurement likely have broad applicability since US systems such as its National Crime Victimization Survey have served as the model for data collection efforts in other countries.

General Overviews

Although crime measurement has not garnered a great deal of widespread attention, several good overviews exist that both discuss the issues surrounding measuring crime as well as describe the available data sources. Although these texts typically focus on crime measurement in the United States, the concerns raised are more broadly applicable, since data-collection efforts in the United States have served as a model for other countries. A classic study in this area is Biderman and Lynch 1991, an examination of crime measurement in the context of divergence, or why police and victimization data might not tell comparable stories about crime trends. This work was updated and expanded by Lynch and Addington 2007, which includes chapters that examine new efforts to measure crime by police sources and victimization surveys. Both volumes are well suited for graduate students, graduate seminar classes, and researchers looking for a solid overview of police and victimization data. For advanced undergraduate students, graduate students and researchers new to the area, Mosher, et al. 2002 offers a clear overview to the topic and summarizes the current measurement issues. The edited volume by Duffee, et al. 2000 provides another excellent overview to measurement issues. This volume is easily accessible for graduate students and researchers. The chapters provide thorough reviews of topics, including measuring crime using victimization and self-report offender surveys as well as measuring particular crimes such as sexual assault.

  • Biderman, Albert D., and James P. Lynch. 1991. Understanding crime incidence statistics: Why the UCR diverges from the NCS. New York: Springer-Verlag.

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    A thoughtful and thorough, if slightly dated, review and synthesis of the measurement issues involving data from police reports and victimization surveys. Recommended for graduate students and researchers.

  • Duffee, David, David McDowall, Lorraine Green Mazerolle, and Stephen D. Mastrofski. 2000. Criminal Justice 2000: Measurement and analysis of crime and justice, Vol. 4. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice.

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    Edited volume contains several excellent chapters that thoroughly address topics of measuring crime through victimization surveys and self-report offender surveys. Includes specialized topics such as measuring sexual assault and fear of crime. Recommended for graduate students and researchers. Available online.

  • Lynch, James P., and Lynn A. Addington. 2007. Understanding crime statistics: Revisiting the divergence of the NCVS and UCR. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    Update and expansion of Biderman and Lynch 1991. Edited volume includes chapters describing data sources and sources of divergence between data from police records and victimization surveys. Recommended for graduate students and researchers.

  • Mosher, Clayton, Terance D. Miethe, and Dretha M. Phillips. 2002. The mismeasure of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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    Covers all three sources of crime data (police records, victimization surveys, and self-report offender surveys). Includes critiques of these data and how these problems have led to the “mismeasure” of crime. Recommended for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers new to the area.

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