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Calculating Crime Rates  

Rémi Boivin

Dividing the number of crimes in an area at a given time by the population of the same area at the same time has become the standard way to present the criminal phenomenon. Such a crime rate is obviously an appealing indicator: it is easy to calculate and based on readily available data. Consequently, crime rates allow much-wanted comparisons. However, there is growing empirical evidence that these advantages are accompanied by inaccuracies. There are two main strategies used to control for population (size) when studying crime and three pillars of crime rates: that the level of crime activity is well measured, that the relationship of population to crime is both obvious and trivial, and that residential population size is sufficient to account for the impact of demographics on crime. Presenting crime rates rarely involve in-depth discussions of the dark figure of crime, “ambient” populations or the impact of demography on crime, even if those questions are implied.