THE study of crime focuses on its extent, fluctuations, trends, and contributing factors, treatment, rehabilitation and prevention. Statistical methods and analysis have been used to understand this social phenomenon.
Crime statistics have not yet reached a uniformly high stage of development in some nations. This in part accounts for the frequency with which they are misinterpreted. This commentary will deal with one of these misinterpretations and abuses, especially the use of reported and recorded crime rates as crime index.
One can find statements in the media that crime is increasing or decreasing because of detection, apprehension, prosecutions, convictions, and commitments to correctional institutions. Media coverage frequently reports the volume of the prison population show increases or decreases, overcrowding and recidivism rates.
A valid and reliable crime index is a scientific instrument of significant value is self-evident. Unless we have such an index it is impossible to make conclusive findings of the relationship of crime to other problems. Changes in social mobility, changes in ethnic and cultural diversity will have an impact on crime trends. A crime index is necessary in order that the effects of deliberate policies of change and reform, particularly in crime prevention, criminal justice agencies and in the rehabilitation of offenders may be gauged.
A crime index must be based on its relevance to the overall scenario associated to crime and criminality. It must be based on the hypothesis that dependability exists over long periods. The questions are as follows: To what extent is the reported and recorded crime streamlined to existing needs? To what extent are all rates of reported and recorded crime more likely to reflect positive trends? It is obvious that a crime index should not be solely based on recorded data which may possibly undergo manipulation to reflect decreasing rates and to uphold the image of police and other agencies.
Research shows some crimes are unreported and/or underreported because they are of a private nature, the victim is anxious to avoid the discovery of the offence, the inconvenience of making reports, lack of enthusiasm from investigators in pressing charges against the offender, brushing off the seriousness of the crime or public opinion, and does not regard the offence as serious. Unfortunately in some cases, the police and prosecutor will make only mild and sporadic attempts to investigate. Changes in social attitudes towards crime may assist in readdressing priorities in assessing crimes once considered as minor or non-serious. It is obvious that an index must be based on the recorded crime rates of selected offences that are considered as greatly intimidating, threatening, frightening, injurious and create unwarranted fear.
Changes in administrative style and policies are also in a large part responsible for the changing trends related to the crime index. However, it appears that the crime index used by the police does not satisfactorily address the needs of contemporary society and their fear towards crime. The crime index is labelled Index Crime. It has two categories: violent and property. There seven types of violent crime recorded and seven types of property crime.
In addition, there are two other indexes: the Narcotics Index Crime and the Commercial Crime Index. Finally, there is a category of crime classified under Non-Index Crime.
The Index Crime reflects crimes that are either deemed serious, occur frequently and draw tremendous public attention which includes murder, assault, robbery, snatch theft, theft of vehicles, and burglary.
The Index Crime is most frequently used by senior police officials and occasionally policymakers in press statements and presentations to interested and concerned societal groups besides for internal planning, management and strategies. The Narcotics Crime Index focuses on drug seizure and arrest whereas the Commercial Crime Index covers criminal breach of trust cases, credit card fraud and cyberspace scams.
Policymakers, researchers, crime prevention activists and interest groups have stressed that that the Index Crime does not depict a clear, accurate and holistic picture of crime trends.
Since 2009, although crime rates have significantly decreased public perception remains negative. This can be effectively addressed by reassessing and re-evaluating the Index Crime, Narcotics Crime Index, Commercial Crime Index and Non-Index Crime by reviewing the types of crime in these indexes.
Crime that draws much public interest (even if the numbers reported are considered low) needs to be included in these crime indexes so that knowledge and awareness in society is based on facts and not assumptions. Assumptions can lead to myths and misconceptions.
It is, perhaps, unnecessary to discuss the importance of ethics and integrity on the part of the police and other agencies in recording crime. Evidence also illustrates that an increase in reported crimes or crimes known to the police is sometimes due solely to the development of higher standards of police administration, management and effective policing strategies. There is more to gain than lose by reviewing and fine-tuning the crime indexes and to be bold in making changes and reform that will enhance the professional image of the police via strengthened public confidence and trust.
P. Sundramoorthy is with the Research Team on Crime and Policing, Universiti Sains Malaysia.