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Uses and Abuses of Crime Statistics

NCJ Number
Don Weatherburn
Date Published
November 2011
16 pages
This study examined the uses and abuses of crime statistics amongst students, journalists and the interested public.
Results indicate that crime statistics have a wide variety of valid uses, including the measurement of crime trends and the evaluation of crime control initiatives. They are, however, frequently misinterpreted by the media and misrepresented by politicians. Most people get their information about crime from the media, and large sections of the media habitually distort, misrepresent and exaggerate the facts on crime. This bulletin is designed to help those unfamiliar with crime statistics to understand their uses and abuses. The increase in media access to information about crime has not been matched by an increase in the quality of media reporting on crime. The misuse of crime statistics by the media has impeded rational debate about law and order. The study shows a description of the main uses of crime statistics, coupled with analysis and examples of common abuses. There are two principal sources of information about crime and a number of secondary sources. The two principal sources are crimes recorded by police and crime victim surveys. The secondary sources include police charge data, accident and emergency data and self-report data. This bulletin discusses the nature, strengths and weaknesses of each of these sources of information. 1 table, 27 figures, 1 note, and 34 references