Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Response to reports of ’35 million yob crimes a year’

with one comment

I think the Express has really outdone itself here in terms of statistical manipulation. Apparently the police logged ‘3.9million incidents of antisocial behaviour’ in England and Wales in 2007/08. According to the Express, because the British Crime Survey says that only 11% of victims report an incident this means that, actually, there were 35 million ‘yob attacks’- they’ve multiplied 3.9m by 9.1. Well, I don’t mean to be picky but the BCS actually says that:

People who had experienced problems with noisy or nuisance neighbours were the most likely to complain (49% had done so) compared with 23 per cent of those who had experienced drug use or dealing and 14 per cent of those who had experienced people being drunk or rowdy. (page 1)

So I don’t think that the 11% figure is accurate. I thought that maybe they were using reported crime (as opposed to ASB) figures but according to the BCS 42% of crimes are reported. Additionally, the most common reason for not reporting the incident is because it was considered by the ‘victim’ to be too trivial. If this is the case, why are we so bothered about it? The problem is, is that we are dealing with this problem within a framework devised by a government and media which is, quite frankly, obsessed by anti-social behaviour. We are asking people what behaviour they have witnessed, classifying it as ASB and then ignoring the fact that the supposed victim decided not to report it because they considered it to be too trivial to report. This behaviour is obviously not causing any significant harm (financial or physical). If it was, people would report it in the same way that most people report burglary, murder or car theft. I think that a much better way of tackling this issue is to ask people to define ASB acts for themselves based on the ‘official’ definition from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (rather than the considerably more scary version on the Home Office website- Anti-social behaviour is virtually any intimidating or threatening activity that scares you or damages your quality of life) which is ‘behaviour likely to cause alarm, harassment or distress to members of the public not of the same household as the perpetrator’. Respondents should then be asked to report whether they have experienced/witnessed it.

Moving on… the Express  says:

The horrifying statistics suggest an epidemic of unbridled hooliganism is sweeping the nation.

But, the BCS says that:

Nineteen per cent of adults had a high level of perceived ASB in 2001/02… This rose to 21 per cent in 2002/03 before falling to 16 per cent in 2003/04. Between 2003/04 and 2006/07, there was a slight increase in the proportion with a high level of perceived ASB. The latest figures for 2007/08 show a reduction, compared with the previous year, to return to the same level (16%) as found in 2003/04.

Admittedly, the BCS is fairly wordy but basically they are saying that perceptions of ASB decreased from 19% in 2001/02 to 16% last year, albeit with small fluctuations here and there. I think everyone agrees that police recorded crime is not a very accurate picture of what happens in reality and that the BCS is considerably more so. If we are experiencing an unbridled epidemic of hooliganism, why isn’t it showing up in the BCS? Either, there is no epidemic, or the BCS has some serious methodological flaws which it admittedly does but I don’t think its that bad!

Moving on again… the Express says that:

The types of offences include youth and gang-related nuisance; vandalism and damage to property; drug nuisance and dealing; prostitution and kerb crawling; dog and animal nuisance; harassment and intimidation; and litter, rubbish and fly-tipping.

But we have seen that the most likely incident to be reported is noisy or nuisance neighbours so I expect these are the majority of incidents that would be recorded by the police- not gang-related nuisance. Why doesn’t nuisance neighbours, the kind of behaviour most likely to be reported, not appear in the Express’s article? According to the BCS, ‘of the seven strands that make up the overall ASB measure, the 2007/08 BCS showed that the most widely perceived problems are teenagers hanging around, and rubbish or litter.’ Not exactly gang-related nuisance or harassment. Only 7% thought that vandalism and graffiti is a big problem in their area.

Anyway, it’s not as simple as the Express makes out and I am sure that they are manipulating figures they don’t understand to get a ‘story’. Finally, as another example of statistical manipulation I will draw your attention to the final sentence of the article (yes I did read that far, unlike most tabloid journalists) which is a quote from a Home Office minister:

The British Crime Survey shows that high levels of perceived antisocial behaviour in the local area have fallen from a high of 21 per cent in 2002-03 to 16 per cent in 2007/8.

I wonder why they chose 2002/03 as the year for comparison rather than 2001/02 (which was the year that this data was first collected) when the figure was  19%? Or why not choose 2003/04 when the figure was 16%?

I’m not going to say that ASB doesn’t exist but I am absolutely unequivocal in my belief that it is not as bad as the Express (and the Mail and the Sun, for that matter) make out. But maybe that’s because I’m a fairly privileged, well-educated, white, middle class PhD student at one of the world’s most elite universities… unlike the journalists who make these figures up.


Written by criminologyandstuff

February 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

One Response

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  1. Stunning, really great theme. I’m going to blog about it too!


    December 12, 2009 at 4:12 am

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