Dark Figure of Crime Is a Term Essay

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Dark figure of crime is a term employed by criminologists and sociologists to describe the amount of unreported or undiscovered crime (Maguire & Reiner, 2007, p. 129). The notion of a dark figure undetected by standard crime reporting system casts doubt on the reliability of these systems. It also raises questions about the true magnitude of criminal activity in the United States.

The main source of crime data in the U.S. is the Uniform Crime Database, which is operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The UCR records crimes which are identified through the observation of a law-enforcement officer or reported by a victim or witness to law enforcement authorities. The UCR is not an exhaustive source of crime data because many crimes are neither observed by law enforcement officials nor reported by victims or witnesses.

There are two sources of crime data in the U.S. that try to ascertain the dark figure of crime. The first source is the National Crime Victimization Survey, where victims are asked about the crimes they have suffered. It was started by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1974 and is compiled in an annual NCVS Survey. The NCVS distributes surveys to a national representative sample of households.

The NCVS suffers from a number of methodological limitations. First, it excludes many types of crimes, particularly victimless crimes. Second, it is based on the victims' memory of the past six months, which is subject to reliability issues. Third, it does not adequately detect the multiple offenses which constitute serial victimization. (Lynch & Addington, 2007, p. 156). Fourth, it tends to underreport crimes where the offender is known to the victim, because such crimes are not perceived to be so by the victim.

The second source of dark figure crime data comes in the form of self-report studies, where offenders are asked about crimes they have committed. These self-report studies are created by individual agencies such as the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which created the Monitoring the Future survey in 1975 to track drug use among high school seniors.

Self-report surveys suffer from a number of methodological limitations. First, self-report surveys rely on the honesty of criminal offenders, who have a higher propensity and incentive to lie than victims. Second, self-reporting is only useful for victimless crimes such as drug-abuse. Third, many criminal offenders are likely to miss self-report surveys Fourth, there is no comprehensive nationwide offender survey, which means patchwork coverage of dark crime figures as well as lack of standardization of methodology among different surveys.


Both victim surveys and offender surveys represent important pieces in ascertaining the dark figures of crime. However, each source is limited in its utility because each surveys' intended respondents lack knowledge or incentive to report certain crimes. Thus, neither survey can provide an exhaustive account of the dark figure crime in themselves. They are most useful when examined with the UCR statistics because they can help to either confirm the validity of UCR statistics for certain crimes or alert researchers to the insufficiency of UCR statistics for a certain crime.

2. Chicago's Concentric Zones

A Concentric Zone is a theory used by sociologists to explain the distribution of social groups within urban areas. (Lilly, R.J., Cullen, F.T., & Ball, R.A., 2007, p. 36). It was formulated by urban sociologists Robert E. Park and Earnest Burgess of the University of Chicago. The Concentric Zone represents a social ecology perspective on crime, which emphasizes the stable characteristics of the crimes' location instead of just focusing on the people committing the crime. It is based on an economic theory called the bid rent curve, which models the geographic distribution of social groups based on the amount that people will pay for land.

The Concentric Zone depicts urban land use in concentric rings, with the Central Business District at the core. Surrounding the Central Business District is the Transition Zone of mixed residential and commercial uses. Surrounding this Transition Zone is the Inner City Zone of working class residential homes. Surrounding this Inner City Zone is the Outer Suburbs Zone of middle-class homes of higher quality than that in the Inner City Zone. Surrounding the Outer Suburbs Zone is the Commuters Zone, populated by higher quality housing linked with significant commuting costs. (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2007, p. 37).

Social Disorganization in the Inner City as the Cause of Crime

The Concentric Zone view uses the concept of "social disorganization" to explain why crime rates increase as one gets closer to the "inner city." The effects of mass industrialization, urbanization, and immigration cause the breakdown of certain institutions such as schools, churches, and families. (Lewis & Salem, 1986, p. 15) This breakdown of these institutions leave a void in the community, leaving inhabitants without guidance. This lack of guidance increases the risk of deviant behavior among the area's inhabitants, especially those who grew up under weak institutions.

In addition, the type of deviant behavior engaged in by inhabitants of the Inner City Zone are influenced by the poor economic situation of the inhabitants. In response to financial pressures, many inhabitants choose to engage in economically motivated criminal activities such as theft, robbery, burglary, prostitution, gambling, and distribution of illegal substances. Such activities promote other, non-economic crimes such as assault and murder.

Fear of Crime as Fear of Outsiders

The public fear of crime can be more accurately described as the fear of outsiders. The Concentric Zone view explains the public fear of crime as a broader "fear of social disorder that may come to threaten the individual." (Lewis & Salem, 1986, p. 9). Lewis & Salem observe that the fear of crime results more from experiencing "incivility" than with direct experience with crime itself. (Lewis & Salem, 1986, p. 9). By "incivility," the authors are referring to perceived incivility, or the failure of certain community members to conform to the traditional conventions of behavior.


The Concentric Zone helps to explain the fear of crime because it predicts both the concentration of immigrants in the Inner City Zone and the resulting social disorganization in that zone. Immigrants are outsiders who are not acculturated to the traditional conventions of a community and thus, likely to come off as lacking manners, civility, or civic virtue. These outsiders are concentrated in the Inner City Zone because of its cheap housing and proximity to labor-intensive, industrial employment zones. Social disorganization further explains the "incivility" of Inner City Zone inhabitants because there are no strong institutions to take up the task of acculturating these new, "outsider" groups. Thus, the fear of these outsiders residing in the inner city is expressed as a fear of crime.

3. Peacemaking Criminology

Peacemaking criminology is a movement within academic criminology that looks beyond the traditional explanations of the causes of crime residing in deviant individuals and the appropriate responses as involving deterrence, punishment, and incapacitation. (Cullen, Wright, & Blevins, 2006, p. 251). Instead, it proposes a holistic perspective that examines factors such as the creation of "crimes," selective law enforcement, and the criminal justice system's "warmaking approach" to crime with which it is contrasted. Rather, Peacemaking Criminology views crime as the product of a larger social structure that puts certain groups at a disadvantage. (Wozniak, 2002, p. 206).

Peacemaking Criminology generally identifies with progressive political positions directly and indirectly related to the criminal justice system. Directly, it advocates drug legalization, rehabilitation, gun control, community policing, and opposes capital punishment. Indirectly, it advocates environmental protection and opposes war. It treats these positions as essential policy foundations for a crime-less world.

Peacemaking Criminology plays a dynamic role in today's criminal justice system as a thought-shaper for the field's movers and shakers. It affects the criminal justice system mainly through academic means. Papers on criminal justice are presented in front of professional societies such as the American Society of Criminology. (Cullen, Wright, & Blevins, 2006, p. 252). Peacemaking Criminology is also covered in most introductory criminal justice textbooks. Perhaps most importantly of all, Peacemaking Criminology has become a buzzword and a rallying point around which many critics of the current criminal justice system gather.


Peacemaking Criminology benefits from its roots outside of the narrow field of criminology. It draws key influences from the intellectual traditions of humanism, feminism, and critical race theory. This allows it to identify broader social forces and problems affecting crime and the criminal justice system. In a way, the Peacemaking perspective is not about crime itself, but about the deeper roots of crime, involving factors such as parenting, self-development, and spirituality. (Cullen, Wright, & Blevins, 2006, p. 256).


Peacemaking Criminology suffers from a lack of focus on tangible, attainable criminal justice objectives. Though it has specific policy recommendations for criminal justice institutions, it conditions true institutional progress on the achievement of intrapersonal and interpersonal development among our society's individuals. (Cullen, Wright, & Blevins, 2006, p. 256). However, the intrapersonal and interpersonal issues of individuals in society is largely beyond the control of criminal justice system professionals and policymakers.…[continue]

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