Official statistics on crimes are collected by the police, the courts and by the British Crime Survey (BCS). The BCS is responsible for the public presentation of recorded crime in the UK. However, the major problem the BCS has is the fact that they can only collate and present recorded crime figures and many believe that the figures they publically present are way short of actual crime statistics. Even the BCS believe that only 1 in 4 crimes is reported.
Sociologists view the presented data with differing degrees of cynicism depending on their stance.
Positivists see such statistics as being reliable as they come from a scientific approach – collected from police and court statistics and from the annual BCS survey.
Interpretivists see such statistics as being less valid as with all statistics they are open to interpretation.
Marxists believe that the presented statistics are shaped in such a way to defend the ruling elite – that they create an atmosphere of fear (society being terrorised by feral gangs etc.) that allows the authorities to introduce yet more controlling legislation.
Right realists believe the statistics as they are proof of many things they believe in – that society is becoming more immoral and that without firm government and more overt policing, society will be overrun with criminal gangs. For right realists the figures serve a purpose.
Left realists do not believe that the figures are valid as they believe that they are used by the government to impose even more restrictions on the population.
Despite these varying approaches towards the validity of official data and statistics, some common themes do occur that tend to be supported by the majority who study them.
However, some sociologists believe that self-report studies offer a greater accuracy of crime in the UK. Self-report studies are anonymous and allow an individual to state whether they have been a victim of crime without having to go to the police. The problem here is that such data equates as unreported crime – so officially it never happened. Using self-report studies, the “most likely" victim of crime scenario described above is challenged. These reports indicate that more middle class people and women in general are the victims of crime. But without any evidence other than these reports to support such claims, few use them to support their work. What can be said about self-reports is that they hint that the official data may be wrong or at least limited in its accuracy.