This was an early assignment I wrote for a criminology class that differentiates the different methods used to analyze crime rate in the United States.
Due to the clandestine nature of crime, it is difficult to have accurate statistics on crime in America. It is; however, imperative to have some indication of crime trends available via annual reports.
Within the United States there are a variety of reporting methods regarding crime. The two most prominent annual reports are the uniform crime report (UCR) and the national crime victimization survey (NCVS)(Schmalleger, 2007).
Each report is unique in their collection methods, and the statistics accordingly do not always correlate. This should not dissuade individuals from using the two reports as trends over time should logically appear consistent in both reports.
Uniform Crime Reports
In 1929 the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police determined that a national reporting system for violent crimes was needed. In 1930 the Federal Bureau of Investigations began collecting and compiling annual reports (FBI, 2009). The UCR is in the process of being phased out for the national incident-based reporting system (NIBRS); however, it has been a slow change due to the vast number of law enforcement organizations that would need to change the methods by which they report crime.
The UCR reports are a compilation of over 17,000 law enforcement organizations’ records submitted annually to the FBI who then make the reports publicly available (FBI, 2009). The uniform crime reports focus on major crimes refered to as part one offenses; these include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson (Schmalleger, 2007).
As the reports are based solely on crimes reported to the police, it is difficult to ascertain the actual incidence of certain crimes. There are various reasons an individual may not report being the victim of a crime to the police, those include a belief that they were to blame for their victimization, that the police would not be able to help, that it was not worth the trouble to report, or even to protect the perpetrator.
There is no question that a significant number of crimes go unreported in America, this leads to a term called the “dark figure of crime,” which means that the true crime rate is higher than the UCR indicates (Schmalleger, 2007). This is a significant drawback of the UCR, which is one reason why the national crime victimization survey exists.
National Crime Victimization Survey
The national crime victimization survey is sponsored by the United States Census Bureau and differs from the uniform crime report in one significant way: the NCVS conducts interviews with approximately 42,000 households asking them whether or not they have been the victim of crime (Schmalleger, 2007). Questions include topics such as rape, personal robbery, aggravated assault, simple assault, household burglary, personal theft, household theft, and motor vehicle theft (Schmalleger, 2007). Notably absent are the crimes of arson and murder or any crime against a business entity, which somewhat complicates comparisons of the UCR and NCVS (Schmalleger, 2007).
There are certain limitations of the NCVS, such as the decision that only crimes committed against household members over 12 years of age are reported (Schmalleger, 2007). Meaning it would not be prudent to generalize NCVS results to children under the age of twelve.
There is a further limitation in that a crime which affects multiple people in a household would only be counted as one victim (OJP, 2007). A crime such as an assault on two of the family members would be considered a single assault as opposed to two assaults.
Just as the UCR is accused of under reporting crime, the NCVS is accused of over reporting crime (Schmalleger). It is believed that incidents that are not actually crimes are reported as crimes and that in an effort to please interviewers some participants may embellish.
Each report is better at reporting certain types of crime. For example, the NCVS is much better at reporting spousal abuse and rape as they are not reported to the police as often, while the UCR is better at reporting crimes involving business, murder, and arson.
While a direct comparison of UCR to NCVS statistics is inadvisable due to differences in collection strategy, it is entirely possible to use the two reports to corroborate changes in overall crime rate. For instance if the UCR shows a decline in crime over a period of ten years, we can also expect that the NCVS will also show a decline over the same period of ten years.
It is also possible to derive other types of theories based upon evidence that appears in both reports such as geographical data. For instance, both reports indicate that crime rates in rural areas are lower (Schmalleger, 2007). As both reports indicate rural areas have a lower crime rate, yet use different data collection methods, we can be more assured that the analysis is correct.
In the field of criminology and the larger field of criminal justice, statistics are invaluable in the research of crime and crime prevention methods. As the FBI and OJP make their crime statistics public, we as criminal justice professionals may call upon them as a basis for or evidence to support our theories.
This should not; however, dissuade us from performing our own research as both the UCR/NIBRS and NCVS have their respective limitations. Nor should it dissuade us from calling on other lesser known reports from other government or research agencies as it is advisable to choose the report that utilizes collection methods that best represent the type of data needed to substantiate or disprove a theory.
Federal Bureau of Investigation, (2009). Uniform crime reports. Retrieved June 16, 2009, from Federal bureau of investigation Web site: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm
Office of Justice Programs, (2009). Bureau of justice statistics crime and victims statistics. Retrieved June 16, 2009, from Office of justice programs Web site: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict.htm
Schmalleger, F (2007). Criminology today: An integrative introduction. Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Prentice Hall.