Crime. What can I tell you about crime? Not a lot obviously as I’m only a criminologist. I’ve worked in the Home Office, I’ve lectured on criminology for over 13 years and researched and published yet am rarely asked about crime.
Yet plenty of other people do get asked about crime. Some of them are criminologists. There are a few ‘celebrity’ criminologists but the number of times they get asked to comment on crime is still small compared to who else does get to comment on crime. Obviously police officers have something to say about crime as should Home Office Ministers. You might expect them to have sound criminological advice, though their utterances often fly in the face of criminological knowledge or hopelessly mangle it. My research into the use of criminologists in the media shows they are rarely quoted on crime and often in ‘sound bites’.
Not that I’m professionally prissy. Clearly in a democratic country everyone is entitled to an opinion about crime and few now have escaped its effects. Criminology is booming in Universities at the moment. There are arguments about the extent of media influence on crime but many agree that ‘crime shows’ like CSI have encouraged students to see that crime fighting might pay.
Much of the debate about crime – and the media have some responsibility here – is carried on at the level of the immediate and common-sensical in which the brilliant politics of Labour’s, ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ glosses over the criminological contradictions. If crime has fallen – and it might have – during their time in office it will not be down to ‘toughness’.
So here is what a criminologist does say about one current crime story. Some of the British media are scandalised that the German media had the insensitivity to raise with the McCann’s the possibility that they had a hand in Madeleine’s abduction. Yet parents and carers are the most likely person to harm a child of that age as they have the opportunity and the motive. We may never find out who did kidnap their daughter but they are responsible, in part, for the media storm. This may not restore their daughter to them but continues to frighten parents when other research shows children need to get out more.