Friday, January 25, 2008

The difference between perception and reality

Received wisdom is a dangerous thing. It's amazing how many things people 'know' that are simply wrong. A good example of this is crime rates.

At various times I have been the victim of crime. I've had bikes stolen years ago and about 4 years ago my car was broken into and the stereo stolen. How people perceive crime is to some extent a function their direct experience. If your home is burgled then the crime rate is too high and terrible. Alternatively, if you have never been a victim then your perception may be very different. Strangely though, that isn't necessarily true.

Below are two graphs, answers on a postcard as to which is the actual trend in crime rates:

One of these graphs I just made up, the other was produced by the British Crime Survey. The BCS is a massive survey done to gain a picture of actual crime rates compared with reported crime rates. There are lots of different reasons why people don't always report crime to the police. Therefore a rise is reported crime can be a bad thing - obviously crime going up is bad. Alternatively it could reflect an increased confidence in the police force which is a very good thing. Hence the British Crime survey.

So, any offers? Is crime is this country rising or falling?

For the record, crime levels overall (and violent crime which is the area that there is most concern over) are approximately half their peak level of 1995. Let me just say that again, half of the peak level of 1995. So why is there such a massive difference between the actual crime rate and the perceived one? Now I don't want to minimise what it means to be a victim of crime, in a very real way, 1 crime is 1 too many.

However, for lots of reasons many people in this country 'know' that crime is out of control, when it's actually falling.

Received wisdom is a dangerous thing.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I haven't seen much TV news coverage in the UK in the last 7-8 years *but* here in the USA the media's magnifying glass-effect gives people the impression the crime rate is much higher than it actually is-- media shapes a lot of public perception, seems to me.

Hey, I want to hear your "am I my brother's keeper?" paraphrase--!