Discussion and Results Chapter: Measuring Gang-Related Crime

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Measuring gang-related crime is an example of trying to measure a particular dimension of crime: motive. Other examples are hate crimes, terrorist incidents, and drug-related crimes. Specify conceptual and operational definitions for at least one of these types of crimes.

Hate crimes are by definition crimes predicated on a specific type of intentionality. They may encompass violent actions characteristic of other types of crimes such as assault or vandalism. However, a hate crime is motivated by the victim's race, sexual orientation, gender ethnicity, or other characteristic and is a crime not only because of the violence of the action but also because of the motivation behind the crime. The conceptual definition of a hate crime is that the crime is 'bigger' than a crime merely directed against an individual and has ramifications beyond that of the violence done to the individual -- it is a crime that is, by implication, against an entire group of persons. According to a research report by the APA (American Psychological Association), the operational definition of a hate crime is as follows: "current federal law defines hate crimes as any felony or crime of violence that manifests prejudice based on 'race, color, religion, or national origin'" (18 U.S.C. §245).Hate crimes can be understood as criminal conduct motivated in whole or in part by a negative opinion or attitude toward a group of persons. Hate crimes involve a specific aspect of the victim's identity (e.g., race). Hate crimes are not simply biases, they are dangerous actions motivated by biases (e.g., cross burnings, physical assault)" (the Psychology of hate crimes, 2009, APA).

One example of a hate crime is that of a shooting which occurred "at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999 when a self-professed white supremacist walked through the door and shot" at the inhabitants, resulting in several children being injured (Merl 2013). Obviously, many tragic incidents regarding shootings in public and school settings have occurred in recent history, but not all were hate crimes. This incident is identified as a hate crime because the location and victims were specifically chosen because they were Jewish.


The psychology of hate crimes. (2009).APA. Retrieved:


Merl, J. (2013). Victims of 1999 hate-crime shooting endorse Mike Feuer. LA Times. Retrieved:


How would you measure crime in a specific city if you wanted to evaluate a community policing program that encourages neighborhood residents to report incidents to police?

One of the difficulties of measuring crime is that such a large proportion of criminal activities go unreported. Whether discovered by the police or a neighborhood watch, the vast majority of crimes are either not detected (the victims may be too afraid or reluctant for other reasons, such as fear of the authorities, to come forward) or may be allowed to 'slip under the radar' because they are considered insufficiently serious. Thus it is difficult to compare apparent changes in the crime rate, given that these may be due to relatively random shifts and inconsistent reporting, and not reflect a real reduction in crime.

Another, for some, more accurate measure of crime is to use surveys of victims. Even if the crimes are not directly reported to police, at least the crime's existence will be recorded based upon victim's perceptions. Victims will not have the fear of contact with the authorities or retribution based upon the results they submit through anonymous questionnaires. However, the downside to using such evidence is that victim's memories may be unreliable and they may not report crimes they consider insignificant but which are still considered illegal activities.

Thus, there is no 'perfect' solution to establish a benchmark to measure crime: rather, different measures (official police reports vs. victim surveys) must be assessed to provide a general picture of the state of criminal activity in the area. It would be promising for the neighborhood community policing campaign if the discrepancy between unreported crimes documented in victim surveys and officially-reported crimes began to narrow, given that encouraging citizens to be more forthcoming was one of the objectives of the program, but this should only be one measure amongst many in evaluating changes in the city's crime patterns.


Chapter 6: Measuring crime. (n.d.). UCF. Retrieved:


Article analysis

Ramchand, R., Macdonald, J.M., Haviland, a., & Morral, a.R. (2009). A developmental approach for measuring the severity of crimes. Journal of Quantitative Criminology,

25(2), 129-153. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10940-008-9061-7

Key points

Although there is widespread agreement in the field of criminology that some crimes warrant more attention because of their severity, precisely how to measure which crimes are 'more severe' is a contentious issue. Academics in the field have often relied upon victim perceptions or general 'rankings' of severity. In the article entitled "A developmental approach for measuring the severity of crimes.by Ramchand (et al. 2009), the authors " propose an alternative metric of crime severity, drawing on findings from developmental criminology that indicate that more severe crimes occur after less severe crimes in the criminal life course, and a method for estimating crime severity" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 129).

The study is based upon the premise that few criminals begin with major crimes as they begin their descent into criminality. For example, someone who is a thief may begin with petty crimes like shoplifting, which gradually escalate into more serious crimes like larceny (Ramchand et al. 2009: 134). This suggests, notes Ramchand (et al. 2009), that by surveying the crimes that all criminals engaged in before either being diverted from a life of crime or engaging in one, it is possible to establish a continuum of severity: crimes which are less severe tend to be engaged in first, versus less common, more severe crimes later on in the criminal's 'professional' development as a law-breaker.

The hope of the study is that better understanding of the concept of criminal severity can enable law enforcement personnel to better understand the progression of alienation from the law over the course of a future criminal's life. The article specifically focuses on juvenile crimes, although the proposed metric could be used to evaluate all forms of crime, not only those perpetrated by juveniles. However, the authors chose to focus upon juveniles because the concept of escalation over the course of a lifetime is particularly noteworthy in this population group. Many persons who do not go on to commit crimes at all as adults commit minor crimes as juveniles. For career criminals, however, the typical pattern of their juvenile offenses is to start with smaller crimes, which then gradually build in intensity. Thus it is helpful to understand what constitutes 'severity' of offenses to distinguish what crimes are a dividing line between those juveniles likely to become career criminals and those who are not.

Relationship to course materials

According to the authors," the severity of a crime can be viewed as a multidimensional construct that considers the harms done to society, personal harms experienced by victims, and the likely consequences for the offender, dimensions typically tapped by normative rankings and economic valuations" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 130). In their construction of a theoretical measurement of the severity of crimes committed by juveniles, they add the perceptions of the criminal of the severity of the crime and the eventual life trajectory of the perpetrator into their framework of consideration. One of the issues discussed in the course materials of particular importance is how to achieve an accurate measurement of crime, both from the perspective of law enforcement as well as academic perspective. Severity is a critical component of measurement.

There is obviously an extremely subjective component to any measurements of crime severity. For example, public perceptions of the seriousness of crime may wax and wane: during the 1960s, casual marijuana use was more accepted than during times of heavy government campaigning against drugs in the 1980s. Certain types of drugs may be perceived as worse, even if they have the same negative physical consequences for the user. This is why the notion of progressive severity in juvenile crimes, based upon demonstrated life patterns in career criminals, is such a valuable addition to the existing literature. The authors postulate:" if for some group an offense, a, is less severe than another, B, then members of that group will be more likely to engage in a before they engage in B, rather than the reverse" (Ramchand et al. 2009: 131).

In the author's literature review, they also note that one common method of measuring severity is 'magnitude surveys,' which are submitted to a cross-section of various representative persons spanning from students to judges: "research from this tradition indicates a high degree of consensus across society in the perceived severity of criminal offenses….[this was also the case in] sampled ratings of offense severity made by Black and White adults living in Baltimore…[which] found high concordance between the views of Blacks and Whites, and between males and females" regardless of socio-economic status (Ramchand et al. 2009: 131). However, there may be a discrepancy between the perceptions of the offenders themselves… [END OF PREVIEW]

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