Are police officers really 100 times less criminal than the general population?

189 police officers have been convicted across 12 police forces in England in Wales in five years since 2013 , according to a recent FOI request (source: The Telegraph). This equates to just 37.8 police officer convictions each year.

According to Full Fact, there were 126, 300 total police officers in England and Wales in March 2019.

This gives us a police officer conviction rate of 0.03% per year – that is to say that 0.03% of police officers are convicted of a crime each year.

1.38 million people in the general population were prosecuted in the year (CJS Stats, 2018)

A very rough estimate for the number of adults in England and Wales is around 50 million, so this gives us a rough adult conviction rate of 2.76 per year.

This means the Police officer conviction rate is 100 times less than that for the population as a whole.

How accurate are these statistics?

Personally I’m sceptical about the police officer conviction rate.

Despite the fact that the police probably are less likely to commit crime – I mean it kind of goes with the job, not committing crime, and then there’s the embarrassment of getting caught even if you are criminally inclined, which I imagine would be a further deterrent, I still think there’s a lot of criminal police officers whose crimes are just not getting detected.

I imagine you’d be less likely to be suspected of a crime – I mean the police themselves aren’t going to get stopped and searched are they?

Then there’s the fact that prosecutors might be more reluctant to prosecute police because it makes the system look flawed.

Then of course there’s all those things which won’t be defined as criminal because it’s the police doing them in the line of duty – such as speeding and violence, and drug possession come to think of it.

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Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

What is Hate Crime?

The Home Office defines Hate Crime as ‘

‘Any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’ (Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2018-19).

There are five main characteristics which the police monitor…..

  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender identity.

However this is not an exhaustive list and hate crimes can also be committed on the basis of age or gender, and there are calls to include misogyny (hatred of women) as a hate crime.

Hate crimes typically include any of the following acts motivated by ‘hatred’ against any of the above characteristics….

  • Assault with or without injury
  • Harassment
  • Causing fear, alarm or distress
  • Criminal Damage

All of these crimes can also be committed in general, but if a victim feels they were motivated by hatred of their religion or gender identity etc. then the police must record the act as a hate crime.

Trends in Hate Crime

Trends in hate crime vary significantly depending on where you get your data…

Police recorded Hate Crime reports that there were 103,379 Hate Crimes in England and Wales in 2018/19, an increase of 50% over the last five years:

However, the 2018-19 Crime Survey for England and Wales shows a decline in Hate Crime the estimated number of hate crime incidents experienced by adults aged 16 has fell by 40 percent from 307,000 in the combined 2007/08 and 2008/09 surveys to 184,000 in the combined 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 surveys.

Thus it’s possibly best to reject the Police Recorded Crime Stats as being invalid as a measurement of the total amount of Hate Crime committed, given that around 50% of CSEW Hate Crimes are not picked up by the police.

Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

Many of the earlier perspectives seem pretty ineffective at explaining this type of crime. You’d probably have a hard time trying to apply Functionalism, for example: by definition these crimes are divisive, and a reflection of conflict in society, rather than social integration, and it’s hard to see how this particular type of crime could be regarded as functional for society or in any way positive.

Similarly with other consensus theories: there’s little evidence that a breakdown of social control, a strain in society, or of subcultures being significant causal factors (at least no more than with any other type of crime) of hate crime… many of these crimes are committed by lone individuals.

It’s possible to apply Interactionism to help understand religiously motivated crime motivated by Islamophobia, given the general negative press coverage of Islam, focussing mainly on infrequent terror attacks when they happen. However, this doesn’t explain hate-crimes agains other religions or minority groups. There’s hardly a moral panic against the LGBT community for example!

Rational Choice Theory (from Right Realism) could partially explain hate crime – possibly some of the perpetrators feel as if there’s little chance of them being caught harassing their victims because the ‘general public sentiment’ is on their side, so they won’t be reported.

This does seem to be a very postmodern crime – in that it’s a negative response to the increased visibility of minority groups and the increase in Diversity in British culture in recent years, although this is a very general level of theoretical explanation.

Possibly hate crime is a reaction to the increased relative deprivation and a feeling of marginalisation experienced by the perpetrators? Maybe they feel as if everything ‘diverse’ and ‘minority’ is being celebrated and has a place in British Culture but that more traditional British culture now has no place? So maybe there’s a possible application of Left Realism to be made here.

Conclusions>?

Hate Crime is a difficult crime to understand. It seems that many of the perspectives simply don’t apply to it, and those that do only seem to apply at the most general level.

So maybe this is a type of crime that defies sociological explanation?

NB – there may be quite a lot of it, but remember that if you take the CSEW stats, hate crime is actually going down, while the police seem to be getting better at reporting it, so whatever the causes, maybe it’s not all bad?!?

The social construction of crime

A key idea in the sociology of crime and deviance is that crime is socially constructed which means that whether an act is criminal or not is determined by social processes. In the case of crime, the introduction of new Acts of Parliament which change the law constantly change the nature of crime.

As a result, there are many things that were not illegal in the past which are criminal and thus illegal now.

A brief timeline of some recent changes to the law illustrate this…

1973 – Motorcycle helmets made compulsory

Before 1973 it was perfectly legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, not so from 1973.

(Source)

1991 – rape within marriage made illegal.

Previous to this it was held that men could not rape women within marriage, because the marriage union was equivalent to consensual sex at any time. The illegality of rape within marriage was not formalised until the 2003 sexual offenses act.

Source: The Week

1994 – informally organised Raves made illegal (sort of)

In 1994 The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was aimed at clamping down on anti-social behaviour. It effectively gave the police new powers to break up raves, or any informally arranged gathering of 100 or more people listening to music involving a series of repetitive beats.

The 1992 Castlemorton rave, the biggest ever informally organised rave in British history, is one of the events that led to the establishment of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Anti-Social Behaviour Act…

NB the act didn’t technically make it illegal for you and your mates to organise a rave, it just makes it easier for the police to break them up, slap an injunction order on you, and then arrest you the next time for breaking the injunction order.

This notorious act also made it easier for the police to break up road protests, move on travellers and arrest hunt saboteurs.

Source:Wiki

2007 – the smoking ban

Made it illegal to smoke indoors in public places such as public transport and bars.

2016 – The Psychoactive Substance Act

In 2016 the selling of so called ‘legal high’s such as Spice was made illegal through the  the psychoactive substance act

Acts restricting (or allowing) the use of psychoactive substances are useful examples in themselves to illustrate how ‘crime’ is socially constructed. While the UK has been toughening up its drug laws increasing numbers of states in America have been making the growing and sale of cannabis legal.

2020 – parents to be banned from smacking children in Wales (probably )

Smacking your children isn’t illegal in England, at least as long as you don’t leave any physical signs of bruising on them, but there is currently an act going through the Welsh parliament that aims to ban the physical punishment of children by parents outright. It looks set to pass at some point in near future.

Putting it all together…

So in 1972 you could have drunk a couple of pints in the pub while smoking (in the pub), organised an attended a quick Rave with your mates with all of you high on Spice (or whatever so called ‘legal highs’ existed in 1972), ridden back home on your bike without your helmet on (assuming you were within the drink driving limits) and then forced yourself on your wife without her explicit consent, and non of that would have been illegal, thus you would have committed no crime.

At out the same scenario today and you’d be breaking multiple laws and looking at a lengthy jail term.

NB this post makes no judgement about the morality of any of the above acts or laws, it’s merely to highlight the extent to which crime is socially constructed.

Further info/ find out more…

Drug timeline UK https://www.theweek.co.uk/65464/when-was-cannabis-made-illegal-in-the-uk

Why has moped-enabled crime declined?

the decline of moped-enabled theft seems to support the view that right realist crime control techniques are effective

Moped-enabled crime was frequently headline news back in 2017: the typical story focussing on helmeted youths on stolen mopeds snatching mobile phones or doing smash and grab raids on jewellery shops.

In the summer of 2017 it seemed like no one was safe from this mobile-threat – even Michael Macintyre had his Range Rover window smashed and his watch stolen. But celebrities were just the tip of the victim iceberg: at its peak moped-criminals were targetting over 50 victims a day

However, Moped-enabled crime has more than halved since its peak in 2017, and so it would seem that the police and other agencies have responded effectively with appropriate policies and been successful in keeping this type of crime under control.

To my mind this seems to be a great example of the successful application of several right realist policies of crime control, a combination of target hardening and a more ‘Zero Tolerance’ approach to dealing with moped-criminals.

Statistics on Moped-Enabled Crime

The number of moped-enabled crimes rose rapidly

Police recorded crime stats are quite dramatic: with an approximate 5 times increase in moped-enable theft being recorded from the beginning of 2016 to the middle of 2017, from when we see a correspondingly rapid decline.

According to Full Fact, some of rapid increase in 20187 was due to improved recording practices, but

How do we Explain the (Rapid) Decline in Moped-Enabled Crime?

This seems to be a straightforward case of the police adopting tougher ‘right realist’ style control measures.

  • Firstly, and most dramatically, they have adopted the policy of ramming escaping moped thieves, apparently getting over their concern about being prosecuted for harming these criminals.
  • Secondly, they have introduced other, more sophisticated ‘chase’ technologies such as slimline bikes and remote control stinger devices to puncture tyres.
  • Thirdly, the courts are adopting tough measures to deal with some moped criminals, as evidenced here with the case of the moped gang who received a 67 year prison sentence between them.
  • Fourthly, there have been education/ awareness campaigns to encourage moped users to enhance their bike security, and the general public to be more aware when using their mobiles.

Limitations of right realist crime control techniques

Moped-enabled crime still remains at a relatively high level compared to 2016, which possible reflects one of main limitations of right realist techniques of crime control: they don’t address the underlying causes of crime.

IF left-leaning perspectives such as Left Realism are correct, then the stock of people who might engage in moped-enable theft are still out there – those who are marginalised and relatively deprived and who lack the means to earn ‘serious money’…..

It follows that police control tactics such as those outlined above will only work as long as the government funding is in place to pay for it!

Find out more…..

For further information follow the links embedded above, or use the sources below….

The Daily Mail2018Moped crime in London more than HALVES a year after police started ramming suspects off their bikes
ONS2018Fall in moped crime as multi-agency taskforce produces results
The Guardian2018Moped-enabled crimes: London police called to 430 a week in past year
gov.co.uk2017https://www.london.gov.uk/questions/2017/3845
MET2018https://www.met.police.uk/SysSiteAssets/foi-media/metropolitan-police/disclosure_2018/august_2018/information-rights-unit—crimes-involving-mopeds-and-motorbikes-in-london-from-2013-to-2017
Full Fact 2018Is Moped Crime Rising in London
Telegraph2019Moped Gang jaild for 67 years
Telegraph2019https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2cHjvt3ztU

Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK?  Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?

These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.

Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime 

prison population and crime rate.PNG

  • England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
  • Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
  • Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!

Does Prison work?

In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.

How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?

it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:

  • 63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
  • 56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
  • 54% of those who receive suspended sentences.

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!

Conclusions 

Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.

Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?

Sources 

This post is based on data taken from ‘Prison the facts, Summer 2019‘, published by the Prison Reform Trust.

Lost Wallet Crime and Deviance Experiment

People are more likely to return a lost wallet if it has cash in it than if its empty

In a recent field experiment researchers posing as members of the public dropped off 17000 lost wallets at reception desks of banks, hotels and museums in cities in 40 countries.

Some wallets contained no money and others £10 cash, and each had a shopping list, a key and business cards with contact details for the owner.

Only 40% of the empty wallets were returned compared to 51% of wallets with £10. The researchers also tried the experiment with £75 in which case the wallet was returned in 72% of cases.

There were significant cross-national variations: In China less than 20% of wallets were returned while in Switzerland the figure was 75%.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example of a field experiment and a cross national study combined, which seems to be designed to test levels honesty in different countries.

It’s mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module and seems (at face value) to be supporting evidence for the view that 60% of the reception staff in hotels around the world won’t go out of their way to return a wallet with no money it to its owner – but progressively more of them will if there is more money in the wallet – this seems to be suggesting reasonably high levels of empathy/ honesty – if 75% of people return a wallet with £75 in, that’s higher than I would have expected. (Then again perhaps I’m just dishonest scum?).

Limitations of the experiment

Despite the 40 countries, it’s not very representative of the populations within those countries – basically reception staff in hotels/ banks/ museums – that’s a very thin cross section of the class structure.

The experiment also tells us very little about the reasons why people didn’t return the wallets, and very little about why the return rates varied so widely.

The low return rates in China could be because the Chinese are inherently less honest, and the high return rates in Switzerland might be because the Swiss are inherently more honest.

However, it might just be showing variations in cultural norms and values.

In China, for example, the low return rates may be due to a collectivist culture resulting in everyone thinking a lost wallet is no big deal, as everyone’s going to be OK whatever happens to them, due to a collective safety net.

Also, people may not have bothered to return the wallets because very few people actually use cash in China (at least in the cities) – money transfers are done by phone, and people increasingly use their phones to access their properties. Thus, maybe the low levels of return there are because the wallets were seen as something of a ‘back up’ or an ‘eccentricity’?

In Switzerland on the other hand, maybe the high return rates signify the high levels of individualism?

As with many things sociological/ psychological, more research required to dig deeper!

Sources:

I stumbled upon this in a recent edition of ‘The week’, however there’s also a summary of the experiment here.

 

The dumping of plastic waste – a green crime?

Only an estimated 9% of the world’s plastic waste is recycled. A further 12% is burnt and the rest, 79% is buried in land fill or just dumped.

China used to be the main dumping ground for the world’s rubbish, but it banned the import of plastic waste in 2017, which then lead to a surge in the amount of used plastic sent to other countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia.

In Malaysia, much of the world’s used plastic is either burnt, releasing toxic chemicals into the air or dumped in rivers, polluting local water supplies and ultimately the oceans.

The BBC recently made a documentary about the harmful effects of the vast plastic-waste mountains in Malaysia, caused by wealthier countries such as the UK not dealing with their plastic waste at home, but rather outsourcing its disposal to a poorer country, because it’s cheaper to do so.

green crime plastic waste
A pile of plastic waste somewhere in Malaysia

From a traditional criminology perspective there is nothing necessarily ‘criminal’ about a company in one country engaging in ‘law evasion’ by exporting plastic waste to a second company in another country with slacker environmental protection laws and then that second company burning or just dumping the waste –   it is up to each individual country to establish its own environmental laws, after all.

However, this case study may well be an example of a ‘green crime‘ from a green-criminological perspective – in the above example company A is knowingly doing something that will result in pollution and thus do environmental harm – even if it is thousands of miles away.

NB Malaysia recently announced that it will no longer accept imports of foreign rubbish, and has threatened to return 3000 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste back to the U.K. other countries.

Sources 

The Week, 8 June 2019

 

Why do some victims not report their crimes?

This topic came up as the 6 mark question in the 2019 AQA A-Level Crime and Deviance Paper.

More precisely the question was ‘outline three reasons why victims may not report crimes’

This strikes me as a very easy question, as all you need to do is identify three reasons and then state why. To my mind, this would have been much better as a 10 marker, in which students have to demonstrate more analytical skills by discussing reasons in much more depth. It would surprise me in fact if this comes up as the 2020 10 mark question!

A few ideas on why some victims do not report crimes to the police.

NB – Written in a verbose exam style – you could get away with writing less and still get max marks on the above question! 

The first reason is that people may not be aware that they have been a victim of a crime – young children may not have the mental capacity to be aware that they are victims of abuse, or they may have been socialised into thinking abuse is normal.

A second reason is that victims may be fearful of the negative physical or emotional consequences for them if they reported the crime. They may be afraid the perpetrator would find out and punish them for dobbing them into the police, or they may not want the sense of shame that comes with admitting to having been a victim, or not want to relive painful memories.

A third reason is that the victim may have been badly treated by the police in the past or perceive the police as the enemy- young black men are more likely to be stopped and searched and thus may have the impression that the police are institutionally racist, and thus think their racism might lead them to not take them seriously if they reported a crime – the victim might think that if they are racist, the they wouldn’t bother trying to track down someone who harmed a black person.

 

 

 

 

The extradition of Julian Assange – is itself as ‘state crime’

The founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange has been in the news recently because the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid just signed an order to extradite him to the United States, where he stands accused of 18 crimes under the Espionage Act.

Assange being assaulted by state criminals

 

The United States claims that WikiLeaks has published State Secrets, secrets that have harmed the United State’s Government to the extent that they’ve compromised National Security.

The problem is that this isn’t really the case – lots of the information published by WikiLeaks has been harmful to the U.S. and many other governments because it reveals the truth about how they operate behind closed doors and the information they cover up to protect themselves.

One such example is the video released via WikiLeaks in 2007 of a US aircrew laughing over the dozen innocent people they’d just slaughtered in Iraq which exposed the US government’s lie that all of these people had been insurgents.

There is also a further problem in that Julian Assange’s Whistle blowing is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

All of this seems to be blatent case of two governments (the US and the UK) collaborating to stifle Freedom of Speech – it is an attempt by them to use blunt force (the threat of imprisonment) to clamp down on any Journalist who dares to expose State lies.

Furthermore, given that Assange hasn’t actually done anything illegal, extraditing him is a state crime on the part of the UK government (false imprisonment – Assange is currently in jail), and the US putting him on trial is also a state crime.

NB if Assange is extradited and found guilty, this could open up the door the the US being able to prosecute any of the newspapers or journalists which published WikiLeaks material.

It’s a worrying time for freedom of speech and just goes to show the power of the state in modern times: even if

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to Crime and Deviance: it’s a great example of how ‘crime’ is socially constructed’ – what Julian Assange did isn’t even a crime (because of the U.S. Constitution) and yet because it harms governments, the US and the UK are ‘making’ it one.

If you compare it to the case of the war criminal Tony Blair who lead us into an illegal war against Iraq by deliberately misleading the House of Commons, he isn’t being extradited and prosecuted.

Together these show how the ‘law’ is manipulate to protect the wealthy.

Sources/ Find out More 

This article by the Real News Network, which features John Pilger, is well worth a read – the article goes into details of how Assange can’t even access the documents he needs to defend himself, in breach of his human rights.

Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of crime and deviance. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018!