Surveys Serve as Crime Stoppers

Victim surveys and self-report surveys can help ascertain levels of crime rates and victimization, assist with identifying target populations, and help in the development of successful crime prevention policies and strategies.

What Are Crime Reports, Victim Surveys, and Self-Report Surveys?

Let your voice be heard. Stand up and be counted. Your vote counts.

These are all calls for civic participation when there are important community issues and where individuals have the right, and sometimes the obligation, to voice their opinions and concerns, and to shape the direction of these issues. But what about crime? What if you are a victim of crime? How are you able to be recognized or heard, beyond a local police department or court? And what can public policymakers do to address your concerns in order to prevent crime and victimization in the future? One way is through victim and self-report surveys.

Within the United States there are three main categories of crime surveys that inform, educate, and direct actions about crime. Here are the most widely used and recognized examples from those categories:

  1. Crime reports represented by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR)
  2. Victim surveys identified with the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
  3. Self-report surveys (SRS) most associated with the National Youth Survey (NYS)

Crime Reports

The UCR is a long standing mechanism to formally collect information about crime incidents that are recorded and voluntarily provided by local and state law enforcement agencies. The UCR provides general tendencies in crime statistics categorized by the type of crime in localized jurisdictions in order to give overall pictures of crime trends across the United States. Crime reports such as the UCR lack specific information on offenders, methods, circumstances, and victims, as well as unreported or inaccurately described crimes. To combat this, more formalized victim and self-report surveys have been instituted in order to supplement crime reports and provide more detailed information on specific crime trends.

Victim and Self-Report Surveys

The NCVS is a victim survey wherein households across the United States are surveyed regarding crimes of which they’ve been a victim, or simply observed. In contrast to the UCR, the NCVS collects crime information for crimes not reported to police. The survey collects detailed ‘ ‘victim, offender, and situational context of crimes,’ ‘ such as the time, place, weapons used and actions taken during the crimes. This detailed information provides a more clear, realistic, and detailed view of representative crime rates and circumstances.

Self-report surveys (SRS) are unofficial criminological surveys of individuals who may or may not have engaged in crimes. Generally, these surveys are administered to juveniles who can be accessed through schools or correctional institutes. The NYS is the most well-known SRS; it specifically gauges a wide array of criminal acts and intentions, from drug use to assault. This has provided a more realistic understanding of how pervasive criminal activity is within the youth of the United States.

The Use of Victim and Self-Report Surveys

The NCVS and SRS question individuals directly and collect specific details on offenders, as well as victims and non-victims involved in the crimes. This allows for comparison and analysis of the characteristics that link offenders, victims and situational factors of crime and victimization. The most valuable statistics include:

Victim

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic status/income
  • Marital status
  • Education level
  • Home ownership/residence location

Offender

  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Victim-offender relationship
  • Presence of drugs/alcohol

Crime

  • Location
  • Time of day/month of the year
  • Use of weapons
  • Injuries
  • Economic impacts
  • Victim defensive actions utilized and outcomes
  • Property type lost

Similar to victimization surveys, an SRS will also collect detailed information regarding comparable demographics of offenders. Specifically, there is increased focus on youths’ involvement in crime, allowing juvenile delinquency to be tracked and classified in more useful ways.

Implications of Crime Surveys

Having more accurate information about the volume, depth and nature of crime allows us to focus more on the sub-groups involved in crimes. Victim and self-report surveys highlight such sub-groups as:

Offenders

  • Juvenile delinquents
  • Gang members

Victims

  • Elderly
  • Ethnic minorities
  • Females
  • Suburbanites/urbanites

Understanding the specific characteristics of the sub-groups, individuals, and circumstances involved in all types of crimes allows criminologists and public policy makers to construct new ways to explain, understand, and prevent crimes. This knowledge can also help us develop theories to explain how and why crimes occur.

For example, surveys provide data on victim’s routine activities related to location, time and distance from offenders; this information led to the routine activities theory. This theory was tested and supported the premise that, with a lack of proper guardians (such as the police) at a certain time and location, opportunities for crime and victimization increase. Testing this theory also showed that offenders target individuals who are similar to themselves.

Specific factors that correlate to crime and victimization can also be analyzed to map out strategies to reduce crimes. Public policies such as tougher penalties for specific crimes, police focusing on ‘hot spots’ where most of crimes take place in a city, and using foot patrols or creating neighborhood watch programs all emanated from survey information. In addition, survey data has led to the growth of situational crime policies in which cities increase street lighting, patrols, guards, alarms, and CCTVs at locations identified in survey data pinpointing where and when crimes and victimization occur.

Lesson Summary

Crime reports began by categorizing crimes and crime incidents to give police and public policymakers general information on trends and crime to analyze the use of resources and manpower. Because the of lack of specific information about crimes, offenders, and victims in these reports, and the underreported statistics of crimes, surveys of the individuals involved in crimes have come to supplement these reports.

Victims surveys and self-report surveys unveil the true nature of crime by providing understanding of the actual depth of crime and victimization incidence. Specifically, surveys like the NCVS and NYS provide better information and understanding of how much more crime exists and the sub-groups of the population that are the offenders and victims of specific crimes. Furthermore, the specific characteristics of sub-groups and situations of crimes and victimization allow for factors to be identified that can limit and prevent crimes, leading to theories of victimization and situational crime prevention techniques.

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