UCR, victim surveys, and self-reports are used to gather and compare information about delinquent behavior. Each of these sources has its advantages and disadvantages that make them useless in certain situations.
UCR is based on the official police records and provides the precise and checked information about crimes. It is a good source of data for research, but the data in the police system is far from being full. It depends on the human factor because sometimes the police manipulate the results of their activity to make the community think they are fighting crime effectively. It is also necessary to note that many crimes are not detected by the police at all, or the number of participants is not right.
According to the interviews with victims, the majority of them do not go to the police. One of the examples of such conduct is a school conflict, when the crime is committed by classmates, and the victim is more likely to tell about the problem to his/her parents than to a policeman. Another issue that makes UCR data inaccurate is the fact that not all participants of the crime are usually caught by the police, especially if it is a teenage group. In addition, police officers often do not arrest those who participate in the so-called victimless crimes, like taking drugs or drinking alcohol. Juvenile delinquency is a special issue in the police. Officers often record the major crime of an adolescent, leaving his/her minor faults aside. This method might help a teenager adapt to the normal way of behavior more easily, but makes the data slightly inaccurate.
In general, UCR is the most objective way to measure the rate of delinquency. The police database provides precise information about crimes with details about age, gender, and personal characteristics of a lawbreaker.
Collecting information about the crime rate can be done through surveys, in which respondents are asked general information about themselves and their experience connected with crimes. People above twelve years are asked about their involvement in the police affairs, and according to the results of surveys, more than half of the citizens do not report their problems. For example, nearly 20,000 of 90,000 rapes are not reported each year according to UCR information. Surveys like the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) try to understand the reasons why victims do not report rapes. The problem is psychological in this case: people often report rape if it was not the only committed crime, such as robbery combined with raping.
The National Crime Victimization Survey gives more detailed information about people who were involved in the crime, but feared to go to the police. It is possible to combine the NCVS and the UCR data for a more precise analysis of the delinquency rate. Even though the advantages of such sociological surveys are evident, there are several weak points as well. For example, respondents can say that their lost wallet was stolen and increase the crime rate by this false information. Another weak aspect is also subjective. People might not report a problem even in the survey because they are afraid of getting into trouble, embarrassed by it, or simply do not remember it.
Self-report surveys are efficient in understanding the motifs and values of delinquency among adolescents. This survey often features questions about family and school background of the respondent that helps understand whether there is a connection between criminal conduct and personal factors.
This method of gathering information is criticized for being very subjective. The chances that teenagers would tell the truth in the questionnaire are very low, even if it is anonymous. Serious law breakers will not confess because they do not want to be imprisoned and make the police work easier. There is another aspect that might make the results of the survey unreal. Those adolescents who have never committed a crime can write that they are serious drug and alcohol abusers to earn respect of their friends. This desire to revolt against the authority might lead to the results that cannot be used for the sociological analysis.
Another issue that is worth considering is a so-called missing case. Even though approximately 90 percent of all students will participate in the survey, those 10 percent who are missing might be the most criminal people in the district, but information about them will not be included in the survey.
Self-report surveys are mainly conducted in the groups of adolescents who have not committed serious crimes like murder or rape. Those who are surely criminals are usually in prisons. That is why the results of this questionnaire might help with a general understanding of the cultural and social issues connected with teenage delinquency.
UCR, victim surveys, and self-reports belong to primary data surveys and need to be used together. In this case, they give the most detailed information about the crime situation. UCR provides researchers with precise official data on crimes and the personalities of criminals. Self-reports help understand the personal values and motifs for delinquent conduct adolescents have. Victim surveys are important in understanding the victim’s point of view and see how many people do not ask the police for help because they are frightened or embarrassed.