For many years now, there has been flawed statistics about murder in the United States of America with media exaggerating numbers that cannot be ascertained. Interestingly, these figures are exaggerated by a great margin sometimes by a factor of more than ten. For instance, research found that the presumed 150,000 deaths from anorexia were exaggerated by a factor of twenty (Steen 228). However, someone may ask why people tend to skew statistics towards bad statistics.
Best posits that, “People who are concerned about some new social issue (e.g., child abductions) seek to justify their concern using the contemporary standard of objective fact, statistics. However, precisely because their concern is new, no one will have collected accurate, systematic data on the problem they are worried about” (Best 10). This paper looks into how numbers are created and gives insight into the number of murders committed in the United States of America in 2008.
The number of murders in the United States of America in 2008 was 16,204 (United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute). The FBI applies a systematic approach in measuring social reality in establishing the number of crimes committed in every year. To measure social reality, FBI first identifies the form of murder.
After most murder cases occur, law enforcement are notified and this is facilitated by intense networking between law enforcers and other investigation bodies like the National Law Enforcement Teletype System (NLETS), the Law Enforcement Online (LEO) and ViCAP Alerts.
FBI also uses National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). These bodies ensure that most of murder cases are reported and recorded to eliminate the common social reality; the big lie. The big lie principle states that, “an outrageous untruth is easier to convince people of than a less outrageous truth” (Salem Para. 4).
After getting the information, FBI embarks on investigation to authenticate the form of murder. This excludes law enforcers who are not allowed to carry any investigation. After identifying the nature of murder, a task force is formed based on experience, nature of the case and resources available. This task force includes members from investigative bodies again to avoid bias and distortion of information.
Communication between these groups is recommended to ensure that important information circulates amongst the task force. ViCAP database comes in handy in this process for FBI can access crucial information concerning the nature of murder. Immediately after obtaining the data, the information is entered into electronic database to avoid loss of information.
Naturally, the investigating bodies and the task force have loads of information to handle and to avoid loss of information they document it timely. FBI owns Rapid Start; a case management system computerized to make data documentation easier and efficient. Moreover, FBI have murder book where they record investigative information on every reported murder. This book can be computerized; nevertheless, it contains all available notes and evidence concerning any given murder.
The final and crucial stage of determining the number of murders is the analytical stage. At this point, crime analysts come in to analyze the viability of the data collected. They sort, compare, and chart the information. Finally, a review team comes in and goes through the documented reports, figures, and charts to eliminate any form of bias.
FBI uses Behavioral Analysis Unit. This unit contains, “crime scene analysis, offender profiles, case linkage analysis, interview strategies, and prosecution strategy” (UNICJRI). These processes ensure that social realities are checked and minimized to avoid distorted figures. These figures are then computed using empirical applications to give a quantitative figure.
Even though this figure might have gone through thorough analysis, some issues may remain unresolved. For instance, there are organizational issues that may interfere with the results. The issue of defining murder also raises eyebrows. Given the fact that murder occurs in absence of authorities, the investigating bodies may miss on some important issues. The issue of dark figure stands out in murder investigations.
Dark figure here stands for the difference between murders that police know, and the ones that police clear. This component affects murder statistics and because there are so many unsolved murders and thus cannot be recorded as murders. Hidden criminality refers to murders that are never reported hence do not enter the murder statistics records. These issues mar the viability of the figure given above and authorities cannot confidently refute the exaggerated reports that press feed the society.
A human rights record report seeks to differ with these figures. The report published in the Philadelphia Inquirer shows that these figures are flawed and there is so much covering up of murders that happened in 2008. According to this report, murder rates were very high with, “New Orleans reporting 95 murders per 100,000 population, Baltimore 45, Detroit 44, St. Louis 40, Philadelphia 27.8, Houston 16.2, and Dallas 16” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).
This report indicates that these statistics suffered many inadequacies because of two issues. The first issue is the dark figure. Many murders remain unsolved hence do not enter the records of murder cases implying that the figure given was out rightly wrong.
On the other hand, the issue of hidden criminality scores high in matters pertaining to murder. There are many murder cases that are not reported hence are excluded from the figures. According to this report, a place like New Orleans reported high numbers of murder standing at 95 murders per every 100,000 people. This is a very high number and looking into other cities and the percentages provided shows that the number will surpass the given 16,204 that United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute provided.
According to Best, “social problems are constructed through the activity of people who identify, name, describe, measure, and promote their significance” (Best 136). There is great difference between scientific data and numerical data. Many people use scientific data that involves deriving statistic based on human choices to suit a given situation that reflects a social reality.
People create bad statistics easily because many of them lack statistical and numerical knowledge and end up making conclusion based on, “bad guesses, deceptive definitions, confusing questions, biased samples, inadequate measurement, overgeneralization, incomparable comparisons (different times, places, or social groups), public innumeracy, and more” (Best 168).
However, there is hope of correcting this trend with the introduction of statistical tools like SPSS and Minitab. Education priorities are also shifting from quantitative devices that are can be subjected to manipulation and deceptions. These devices include simple mathematics applications like calculating measures of central tendency, mean, mode, and standard deviation among other simple mathematics applications.
Best, Joel. “Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians.” California: University of California Press, 2001.
Salem, Bruce. “The Big Lie: Creation as a Scientific Theory.” Nd. Web. 25 Feb. 2010.
Steen, Lynn. “Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists.” The University of California Press, 2003. 50(2); 228-231.
The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Human Rights Record of United States in 2008.” 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2010.
United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute. “Activities and Reports of 2008.” 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2010