Forum on Crime and Society

Special Issue - Improving Knowledge on Crime: Towards Better Data

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Proceedings of the meeting of the open-ended expert group on ways and means of improving crime data collection, research and analysis with a view to enhancing the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other relevant international bodies, Vienna, 8-10 February 2006

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Crime statistics are expected to provide the foundation for assessing crime trends, and researchers may expect such statistics to be internationally comparable. In practice, however, crime statistics are still far from meeting those expectations. As Marvin Wolfgang has stated, “to make international comparisons by merely counting the number of violations of a specific type and dividing by a population constant reflects an arbitrary arrogance of assumed similarity that pays no attention to cultural diversities”. Indeed, there is no doubt that crime rates vary enormously from country to country and that better knowledge of such variations would be extremely helpful in analysing social development phenomena. Gary Becker, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, has observed that, while official crime statistics are often hard to interpret, poorer and more slowly developing countries generally have higher incidences of crime, often much higher. He continues by asking whether higher rates of crime also contribute to poverty and weaker growth and concludes that the answer is yes.

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