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Crime Harm Index: promising method to gain insight into the seriousness of crime

The Crime Harm Index is a promising instrument for gaining insight into the seriousness of crime, according to a recent systematic literature review by the NSCR. A Crime Harm Index helps, among other things, to identify the perpetrators and victims who cause and experience the greatest damage, and provides insight into locations where the most serious crimes take place.

Some crimes are more serious and therefore more harmful to society than other crimes. Therefore, analyzing raw crime counts does not always provide valuable insight into the nature of crime in a particular period or location. For that reason, science and (police) practice underline that when measuring crime it is important to take into account the seriousness and damage associated with different crimes.

Established penalty or actually imposed penalty

In recent years, researchers from, among others, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Sweden – often in collaboration with the police – have developed a new method to measure the seriousness and damage of crime. This Crime Harm Index (CHI) has been developed on the basis of the penalty established in criminal procedure guidelines or on the basis of the (average) length of sentences actually imposed. One proponent describes the CHI as “a low-cost, easily adoptable barometer of the total impact of harm from crimes committed by other citizens” (Sherman et al., 2016, p. 172).

Basics for academics and law enforcement agencies

Since much has been published abroad about CHI in the recent past, the NSCR has conducted a systematic literature review within the research program What works in policing: towards evidence-based policing in the Netherlands. In this study, 141 publications were analyzed. The researchers not only looked at scientific literature, but also at 'grey' literature such as policy documents. By examining the ways in which the CHI has been calculated and applied in different countries, this review of the literature provides a foundation for both academics and law enforcement agencies who are also considering adopting a CHI.

Allocating scarce resources to the right people and places

The literature review shows that a CHI can be of added value for both criminological research and police practice. For example, it is possible to clarify crime trends in different regions by showing that an increase in the number of crime incidents is not necessarily accompanied by an increase in the seriousness or harm of crime. A CHI also helps to identify the power few perpetrators and victims, the often relatively small groups of people who cause and experience the most damage. In addition, harm spots can be mapped: locations where crime causes the most damage. Finally, a CHI can be used in evaluation studies, for example by measuring, in addition to counting the number of offenses after an intervention, whether the seriousness of crime has decreased or increased. The CHI is presented in the literature as a valuable tool for police forces to allocate scarce resources to those places or those persons in society that cause or suffer the greatest damage.

Within the research program What Works in Policing we are investigating how a CHI can also be developed for the Netherlands.

Publication details and further reading

Ruitenburg, T. van & Ruiter, S. (2022): The adoption of a crime harm index: A scoping literature review. Police Practice and Research: An International Journal.
Sherman, L.W., Neyroud, P.W. & Neyroud, E. (2016). The Cambridge crime harm index: Measuring total harm from crime based on sentencing guidelines. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, 10(3), 171-183.

Dr Teun van Ruitenburg

Senior Researcher

Prof. Stijn Ruiter

Senior Researcher

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