There are three methods used to try and assess the size of this dark figure. The first method is estimating or guessing. This is obviously very unreliable and the conclusions that different people come to are often extremely varied. There is one they do agree on however, and that is that a great deal of crime does go undetected. The second method used is self-report studies. These involve going and asking people to volunteer their past illegal actions. There are both advantages and disadvantages of this method.
One advantage is that they pick up on private and victimless crime, which is a disadvantage of the next method. They also record levels of crime above the official statistics and are therefore useful when trying to calculate the dark figure. The results, however, are also subject to limitations. There is the problem of validity in that the respondents may often exaggerate or under-report their delinquencies through dishonesty, bravado or simple forgetfulness. Furthermore, the sample of individuals is often not representative of the entire population.
Most studies tend to focus on adolescents and therefore, although giving a good picture of youth crime, fail to reflect the population as a whole. The third alternative method used is victim or crime surveys (principally the British Crime Survey or BCS). These surveys work by asking a randomly selected sample of the population about heir experiences with crime in the past year. Like self-report studies, the finding of these annually published reports state that official statistics do not give a true reflection of crime levels in the UK.
The BCS covers a wide range of topic areas in its questionnaires and this is one of its major advantages. Some of the areas covered include victim’s experiences property and personal crime, their fears and worries in relation to crime, violence at work, illegal drug use and security measures including those such as Neighbourhood Watch. Another major advantage is that it also shows who and what social groups are most at risk from crime.
Another virtue of crime surveys such, as the BCS is that they not only count crimes, but they also collect additional info about crime, the victim and the police. The official statistics provide very little information on victims and offenders and the BCS is an excellent alternative to these statistics. Also, the BCS records both reported and unreported crimes and can suggest why reasons as to why some crimes go unreported. Furthermore, they look at attitudes towards the Criminal Justice System, including the police and the courts.
One criticism is that, although a crime may be repeated over and over, for example, in cases of domestic violence, it only appears once in the published results derived from the survey. It also disregards consensual offences. Crime surveys do not provide a complete picture of crime. They do not cover crimes committed against businesses (eg fraud, shoplifting etc); crimes which people may not be aware of (eg environmental crimes); nor victimless crime (eg drug offences). The accuracy of crime surveys is limited by the reliability of answers given by respondents and sampling and non-sampling errors.
Crime surveys offer a better guide than police recorded crime statistics to levels and trends of certain types of crime since reporting levels and police recording practices tend to vary over time. Both self-report studies and victim or crime surveys fail to give an account of white-collar crime. The official crime statistics are often criticised for failing to provide a clear and simple mirror image of criminal activity. It is true that official statistics give a distorted picture of criminality in Britain.
There are a number of disadvantages to these statistics. Some of them can be solved by alternative means such as self-report studies or crime surveys such as the BCS. However, perfectly consistent data may be an unobtainable goal. All methods of gathering crime data have their disadvantages. The complexities of statistics merely reflect the complexities within society. In conclusion, the official statistics can be considered to be a “better reflection of societies attitudes towards crime and criminals than an objective measure of criminal behaviour”.