Defining Crime

Any discussion of deviance remains incomplete without a discussion of crime, which is any act that violates written criminal law. Society sees most crimes, such as robbery, assault, battery, rape, murder, burglary, and embezzlement, as deviant. But some crimes, such as those committed in violation of laws against selling merchandise on Sundays, are not deviant at all. Moreover, not all deviant acts are criminal. For example, a person who hears voices that are not there is deviant but not criminal.

A society's criminal justice system punishes crimes. Punishment becomes necessary when criminal acts are so disruptive as to interfere with society's normal functioning.

Limitations of criminal statistics

The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report contains the official crime statistics drawn throughout the United States. Significant biases exist in the reporting and collecting of crime data, and problems occur when people interpret these criminal statistics. Some of these biases include the following:
  • Many crimes in the United States go unreported, which makes the validity of crime statistics limited at best.

  • Victims are often unwilling to cooperate with authorities.

  • Complaints do not always translate into reported crimes. That is, while some victims of crime may complain to police, this does not mean that their complaint ends up reported in the Uniform Crime Report.

  • Many people do not know how properly to interpret social science statistical data, including criminal statistics. For example, one very common error is attributing cause‐and‐effect to correlational data.

  • White‐collar crime, committed by high‐status individuals during the course of business, tends not to appear in the Uniform Crime Report. Typical white‐collar crimes include embezzlement, bribery, criminal price‐fixing, insurance fraud, Medicare theft, and so forth.

  • Some police and government officials exaggerate or downplay criminal statistics for political purposes. An incumbent politician may report “less crime” statistics in a re‐election campaign, while a social service agency may report “more crime” statistics in a proposal for funding.

Types of crime

The types of crimes committed are as varied as the types of criminals who commit them. Most crimes fall into one of two categories— crimes against people or crimes against property.