Home Office: Research and Statistics Directorate and predecessors: British Crime Survey Datasets
The British Crime Survey (BCS) is one of the most important methods used by the Home Office to gather information on crime in England and Wales; ten surveys dating from 1982 to 2001 are held in this series. The survey asks a representative sample of the adult population about their experiences as victims of household crimes and personal crimes during the previous year. Its main purpose was to provide an alternative to police measurement of crime in England and Wales.
The questions asked in the BCS have evolved over time. Most questions relating to the experiences of crime victims have remained the same, but questions on other topics have varied with different sweeps of the BCS. The following is a summary of the types of information gathered in the different sweeps of the survey:
- Demographic information about respondents and their households, to allow analysis of the types of people who have and have not been victims of crime: e.g. size of household, numbers of children, sex and age of members of the household, health and employment experiences of the respondent, type of accommodation, household income.
- Information about crimes experienced by the respondent and their household. This includes (1) general information about crimes (e.g. numbers and types during the reference period, whether incidents were isolated or part of a series), gathered through 'screening' questions intended to identify crime victims; and (2) details of specific incidents or related series of incidents gathered from those respondents who answered the screening questions positively: e.g. when and where the incident occurred, details of property stolen, the nature of any relationship between the victim and the offender, and whether the incident was racially motivated. These details are used to determine whether the incident or series counts as an offence, and to classify the offence.
- Information about fires which have occurred in the respondent's home (a feature of BCS sweeps in the periods 1988-1996 and 2000-2002).
- Information about the attitudes of the respondent on topics such as fear of crime, the police, the Criminal Justice System, and the punishment and sentencing of offenders, the respondents' perceptions of the prevalence and seriousness of crime, attitudes towards Neighbourhood Watch schemes, etc. The nature of these attitude-related questions has varied with the different sweeps of the survey.
- Information on other topics, dealt with on an ad hoc basis, which may change with different sweeps of the survey: e.g. experiences of drug use, domestic violence, contacts with the police, self-reported offending, stalking, sexual victimisation, mobile phone theft, and technology crime.
The data gathered in the BCS is intended to complement the Home Office's published statistics on notifiable offences, i.e. crimes reported to and recorded by the police which the police are required to notify to the Home Office. The BCS captures household and personal crimes which were not reported to the police, or not recorded by the police, or not in those categories of crimes which the police were required to notify to the Home Office. It therefore provides a truer estimate of the extent of household and personal crimes. BCS data is also less prone than the statistics on notifiable offences to changes in police practices in recording crimes, and to changes in the willingness of the public to report crimes, so it can provide a more accurate indication of trends in crime over time. The survey provides demographic profiles of the victims of crime (highlighting those groups which are most at risk of victimisation), and also provides information about the nature of crime, the circumstances in which crime takes place, and the impact of crime. Respondents are also asked for their opinions on related topics such as sentencing, the police, and the efficacy of the criminal justice system. The results of the BCS have been published by the Home Office in a variety of statistical and research publications, and are used to measure trends in crime, to provide a point of comparison for statistics on notifiable offences, and to inform policy making on crime and punishment.
It should be noted that the BCS does not cover all crimes, only those classed as household crimes (e.g. burglary, thefts of and from vehicles, vandalism and theft from the home), and personal crimes (e.g. assaults, robberies, thefts from the person and other personal thefts). The BCS does not cover crimes against organisations (e.g. fraud, shoplifting), 'victimless' crimes (e.g. drug abuse) or crimes where the victim is no longer available for interview (e.g. murder, manslaughter). As the core sample in each sweep of the BCS covers adults aged 16 and over, the BCS does not record crimes against children (the exception is the 1992 survey, which included an additional sample of 12-15 year olds from households where an adult was also interviewed).
The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.
Hardware: 1982-1999, VAX 6410 mainframe.
Operating System: VMS, Microsoft Windows NT subsequently.
Application Software: BLAISE developed by Statistics Netherlands, offering: computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI), Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), and Computer-assisted self interviewing; Interactive data editing; forms-based data entry; structured questionnaire design; complex routing and checking; top-down editing with interactive tables; survey management; data manipulation and tabulation; interactive coding; export to statistical and database packages. Until 1999, data sent to the Home Office in SPSS was exported into P-STAT, software used by the Home Office to hold and manipulate BCS data. From 2001, this was changed to Quancept CAPI, produced by SPSS. The related Quanquest module was used to author the questionnaire, which was designed to replicate the BLAISE surveys.
User Interface: The datasets were accessed via a Windows-type interface. Files were opened and manipulated using SPSS Data Editor, in which data was displayed in a tabular format. Dialogue boxes could be used for basic manipulation; separately created syntax files were used for more complex manipulations.
Logical structure and schema: Before the migration of the BCS datasets from P-STAT to SPSS (in 1999), datasets consisted of separate tables which corresponded, broadly, to the main sections of the survey questionnaire. Since 1999 each dataset has primarily consisted of two tables: one for data from the Victim Forms section (the 'vf' table), the other for data from all other sections of the questionnaire (the 'nonvf' table). From 1994 the datasets have field names which normally correspond to the fields used in the interviewing software.
However, the 1984-1992 field names have prefixes indicating the section of the survey questionnaire to which they relate; including: M (Main Questionnaire), V (Victim Forms), FA (Follow-up A), FB (Follow-up B), D (Demographics) and SC (Self-completion).
How data was originally captured and validated: BCS data is gathered from a 'core' sample of adults aged 16 and over. The first four surveys (1982-1992) achieved successful interviews with a core sample of between 10,000 and 11,000 respondents in England and Wales. In 1994 it was decided to increase the core sample to around 15,000 adults in England and Wales; the sample was further increased to 19,411 for the 2000 survey, and 37,170 in 2001/2002.
In the first three surveys electoral registers were used as a sampling frame. By 1988 it was acknowledged that the use of electoral registers was flawed, because they do not cover all households. The 1992 survey and all subsequent sweeps of the BCS have based their sampling frame on the Postcode Address File (PAF).
In 2000 primary stratification by inner city and non inner city was abandoned; instead, primary sampling was done by Police Force Area (PFA). In response to the higher incidence of crime in inner city areas, every BCS from 1982 until 1998 oversampled these areas by a factor of about two. The 2000 BCS abandoned the oversampling in favour of an oversampling of the smallest PFAs, in order to ensure a minimum number of achieved interviews per PFA.
The 1988-1996 and 2000-2001/2 sweeps employed 'booster' samples of ethnic minorities. These methods produced booster samples of 1,349 ethnic minority respondents in 1988, increasing to a peak of 3,874 in 2000. The 1992 BCS also employed a one-off booster sample of children aged 12-15, from households where an adult had already been interviewed.
In 2000 the Home Office announced that, with effect from 2001, the BCS would be held on an annual rather than a biennial basis and would aim for a larger sample of around 40,000 adults (including ethnic minority booster). In preparation for the enlarged survey the Home Office commissioned a review of BCS methodology; it recommended:
- That data should be gathered through continuous interviewing.
- That the recall period for questions relating to victimisation should be the 12 months prior to the interview.
- That in order to measure the effect of the changes, the 2001 BCS should employ a mixture of the old and new methodology.
Paper forms were used in the BCS until the 1994 sweep, when Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) using BLAISE was introduced. In CAPI, answers to survey questions are logged by the interviewer onto a laptop computer. CAPI was used for all sections of the BCS questionnaire except for the Self-completion sections, where Computer Assisted Self Interviewing (CASI) was used. Under CAPI/CASI, the entire interview consists of one electronic questionnaire.
Coding and classification: The input, coding and checking responses was done by coders employed by the contractor(s) carrying out each sweep of the survey. This included coding the occupation, social class, etc. of the respondent and the head of household; and coding the offences recorded on Victim Forms, according to a standard scheme for classifying offences. The BCS's instructions for classifying offences were developed by the Home Office in consultation with a number of police forces.
After the introduction of CAPI/CASI in 1994, post-interview coding involved the editing and checking of data input as part of the interview. This included checking 'open-ended' questions, where a response was recorded in the respondent's own words. In the 1992 survey the contractor developed a computer program which suggested the most likely classification for an offence, based on a range of variables recorded in the Victim Forms. Similar programs were used in subsequent sweeps. The classifications suggested by the computer were confirmed or modified by coders.
Weighting: In each sweep data has been weighted at the data processing stage, to correct for imbalances in the sampling and design of the interview. Every BCS sweep has used a series weight to account for the fact that series incidents are recorded on a single Victim Form, and an inner-city weight to correct for inner city oversampling.
Other weights include:
- To account for the mismatch between electors and persons at addresses.
- For household crimes, where the victim is the household rather than the respondent.
- A dwelling unit weight (applied to from 1992 onwards), to correct for cases where more than one household was covered by an entry on the Postcode Address File.
- An individual weight (applied to surveys after 1992), to account for the fact that individuals living in larger households tend to be under-represented.
- Ethnic minority weights (used in the 1992 and 1996 BCS), to down-weight this booster sample.
- The 2000 and 2001 surveys employed a police force area weight, to correct for disproportionate sampling.
Constraints on the reliability of the data: The BCS faces difficulties in accurately representing the entire population. The Postcode Address File was adopted to help overcome this problem. May also tend to over-represent older age groups. Because of the small number of incidents, estimates of sexual offences are not likely to be reliable. It also undercounts crimes where the victim and offender know each other.
Validation performed after transfer: Details of the content and transformation validation checks performed by NDAD are contained in the catalogues of individual datasets.
The first sweep of the British Crime Survey (BCS) was conducted in 1982 by the Home Office and the Scottish Office. It covered 10,905 respondents in England and Wales and 5,031 respondents in Scotland. Subsequent sweeps of the survey were conducted in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and annually from 2001. The 1988 survey was also extended by the Scottish Office to a sample of about 5,000 respondents in Scotland, though as in 1982 the results of the Scottish survey were reported separately. Scottish data is not included in the 1982 and 1988 BCS datasets. The 1984 sweep, and all sweeps of the BCS since 1992, have focused solely on England and Wales. Scotland is covered by a separate Scottish Crime Survey, which was conducted by the Scottish Office in 1993 and 1996, and by the Scottish Executive in 2000. In 1996 the Northern Ireland Office commissioned its own Northern Ireland Crime Survey, using the questionnaire developed for the 1996 BCS. A further Northern Ireland Crime Survey was conducted in 2001.
The BCS was conducted biennially from 1992 until 2000. In 2001 the BCS became an annual survey in which data was gathered through continuous interviewing.
Responsibility for the management of the BCS and the reporting of the survey's results rested (in 2002) with the Crime Surveys Section, which was part of the Crime and Criminal Justice Unit within the Research Development and Statistics Directorate (RDS) of the Home Office. The 1982-1996 surveys were carried out by a predecessor body, the Home Office's Research and Planning Unit, which became part of the Home Office's Research and Statistics Department (another of RDS's predecessors) in 1989-1990.
Although overall control of the BCS rests with the Home Office, certain tasks - fieldwork, piloting, sample design, question coding and some question development - have always been delegated to one or more outside contractors (in some surveys, two contractors have acted as a consortium). The contractors have included:
- 1982: Social and Community Planning Research (SCPR).
- 1984: NOP Market Research Limited.
- 1988: SCPR and NOP Market Research Limited.
- 1992: SCPR and the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB).
- 1994: Social Survey Division of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.
- 1996 and 1998: SCPR.
- 2000: National Centre for Social Research (SCPR was renamed the National Centre for Social Research in 1999) and the Social Survey Division of the Office for National Statistics.
- 2001: BMRB Social Research (part of BMRB International Limited) was been awarded a contract to carry out the annual BCS survey from 2001 until 2004. Some fieldwork and development work for the 2001 survey was subcontracted to Ipsos-RSL.
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