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The Convenience of Crime Data

Today, data on criminal offending is widely available and easily accessible. Just a few decades ago, before the Internet, it was much more difficult to access crime data. With the expansion of the Internet, access to online data sources has expanded, and the modern criminologist hardly has to leave his or her desk chair to access studies on the causes of crime. The widespread accessibility of crime data makes it much easier to engage in the analysis and reanalysis of secondary data. That convenience comes with a cost. Criminologists may be less likely to criticize the legal definition of crime, since doing so would have an impact on their use of Internet-accessible crime data.

The accessibility of crime data has itself changed the nature of how criminology is practiced and the expectations criminologists have concerning the frequency and volume of their publications.

In just the past several years, it has become commonplace for new criminology PhD students to enter the marketplace with a halfdozen or more publications and for those with more extensive publications to have produced a dozen or more publications in graduate school. The tendency for new criminology PhDs to have a number of publications increases the pressure on them and other criminologists to accelerate the pace of research productivity, which has also been accomplished with the spread of other technological innovations that expand productivity such as the widespread availability of personal computers, laptops, and statistical software. These pressures to produce more research makes the widespread availability of data more attractive and reduced the incentive to take a critical stance toward examining the assumptions criminologists make about the legal definition of crime.

Given these trends, we are concerned that the recent generation of criminologists has much less incentive to engage in the analysis and critique of the criminal-law definition of crime. Raising questions about the definition of crime would slow the scholarly production process (unless this is seen as a new opportunity to reconceptualize crime and reexamine what criminologists believe they know about crime) and could require that criminologists rethink the definition of crime and collect new forms of data that are not currently available. This may require efforts to obtain grants, which, in the contemporary era of fiscal restraint, has become more difficult.

Other funding-related processes have also promoted the convenience of data collected on the legal definition of crime. Federal and state agencies, for example, now offer grants for criminologists to engage in the analysis of data collected by those agencies. Those crime data measure the legal concept of crime and may reflect particular definitions of crime relevant to the ways in which particular government entities/agencies define crime. In some cases, the availability of grants is the result of cost-cutting measures by states. Some states, for instance, have privatized all or some of their crime- data analysis functions to save money, and contract for those services on a need basis instead of maintaining a staff of data analysts. Taken together with other trends, this decreases the incentive for criminologists to think about crime as a concept and to critique the use of data based on the legal definition of crime.

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