Crime rate calculation method due for overhaul, researchers say

Apr 10, 2013

In a study published recently in the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, WSU Ph.D. student Zavin Nazaretian and David M. Merolla, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, found that a method called "capping"—which only allows survey respondents to represent a maximum of three incidents per crime type regardless of how many incidents they report—undercounted violent crime by 87 percent and household crime by 36 percent.

Capping is a common methodological practice used in most victimization surveys. The researchers don't believe it is a deliberate attempt by governments to mislead, but rather a once-useful practice that must be rethought in order to yield more accurate crime reporting. Capping has been used to try to correct response bias by limiting the number of individual victimization incidents that one person can represent in official rates.

The study, "Questioning Canadian Criminal : A Re-analysis of the 2004 Canadian Victimization Survey," examined seven of the eight personal or property crime categories from that survey, which sampled 23,700 households. Nazaretian and Merolla found substantial differences in how household and violent crimes are affected by capping, with results indicating that is much more sensitive to capping techniques than household victimization.

That pattern is consistent with research on repeat victimization, and indicates that individuals reporting more than three victimizations likely are providing accurate responses.

"By capping the numbers, some crime types increase more than others, possibly making the distribution between property crime and violent crime seem more comparable," Nazaretian said. "Perhaps that translates into spending more money on protecting vehicles that could instead be used to support things like homes for ."

"We argue that the increase is so much more for violent crimes, it's likely that at least some of these high numbers are real criminal events," Merolla said. "Rather than limiting it to three, we should be working toward developing some sort of methods to better understand when a report is likely to not be verifiable, or when it's likely to be a real crime."

In the study, the researchers came up with new figures by including all incidences actually reported, leading to much different conclusions for some crimes. For example, Nazaretian and Merolla said the rates barely changed for vehicle theft, but increased for assault by 90 percent, from 51 incidents per 1,000 adults to 96.

"This shows, even when using its own numbers, that crime, particularly the most egregious types, is possibly much higher than the government reports," Nazaretian said.

The researchers believe the higher numbers also provide insight into the number of unreported crimes when compared with arrest rates reported by police agencies, and that the cost of likely is more than is being reported.

The researchers said their report is not intended as a criticism of Statistics Canada, the agency that conducted the survey, but rather as evidence of the need to update a statistical technique for policy reasons and better resource allocation.

Explore further: Local education politics 'far from dead'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Anti-gay hate crimes widespread

Jul 02, 2007

Nearly four in 10 gay men and about one in eight lesbians and bisexuals in the United States have been the target of violence or a property crime because of their sexual orientation, according to a new study by University ...

Foreclosure crisis and metropolitan crime rates

Aug 17, 2012

The housing foreclosure crisis has been blamed for widespread economic and social problems in the United States, including reduced property values, depressed consumer spending and a decline in government services. Some observers ...

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

10 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

10 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

13 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

13 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

Understanding the economics of human trafficking

Jul 28, 2014

Although Europe is one of the strictest regions in the world when it comes to guaranteeing the respect of human rights, the number of people trafficked to or within the EU still amounts to several hundred ...

User comments : 0