Apart from recording how many crimes have been committed in a year, crime statistics have other uses too; they are used to track patterns and rising/falling levels of crime over a number of years, and can highlight trends etc. Also they can be used to help with crime prevention measures, if for example there was an increase in street muggings, more police money and time would be dedicated to helping patrol the streets. Furthermore the statistics can show areas of high crime and will help the government see where more money is needed to establish a bigger or stronger police force. A final usage of official crime statistics is by academics, Psychologists, Sociologists and Criminologists for example may find them useful, if they were investigating crime in the community, or investigating a certain type of crime. Many would argue however that official crime statistics are not the best resource for studying crime levels.
Looking at the above advantages, it would be easy to draw a conclusion that official statistics are in fact very useful as a source of data, however there are also important disadvantages to official statistics. They are not always produced in useful form which tend to make it harder to analyse and draw any trends of patterns for sociologists. Official crime statistics do not always measure what they intend to measure for example Home Office Crime Rates Statistics do not always take into account that not all crime is reported which does not represent crime data. Also statistics can be seen as politically biased as they are produced by the government.
Positivists find official crime statistics as valuable; they believe that they tell us more about the crime and criminality and therefore are very useful. Durkheim used them in his study of suicide, he felt that society was not reducible to individuals. And he found out that there was a significant variation in rates of suicide of different populations and that they stayed remarkably consistent over time. From this he found four types of suicide which showed why a person may have committed suicide. He concluded that suicide is not an individual act but has its roots in society. Positivists believe that official crime statistics are useful as it gives an insight to the extent of crime i.e whether it is increasing or decreasing and the nature of crimes i.e violence or property related. However, Interpretivists would question the usefulness of official statistics, they argue that official crime statistics lack reliability and therefore validity because it tells us more about the people involved in their collection. They believe that official crime statistics are socially constructed. They argue that official crime statistics vastly underestimate crime and therefore on represent ‘the tip of the iceberg.’ It is argued that some crimes go unreported or prove difficult for agencies to detect such as white collar crimes, which are generally committed by middle class.
White collar crime is a significant problem as it means that official statistics significantly underestimate middle class crimes. There are two main types of white collar crime, corporate crime and occupational crime. Corporate crime is committed on behalf of an organisation, for example Nick Leeson’s fraudulent trading which lead to the collapse of Barings bank. Occupational crime which is committed at