FAQ: Crime Reporting and Statistics

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1 Question 1: What is the difference between the Part I and Part II offenses in Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)? Answer 1: Uniform crime reports (UCR) divide offenses into two categories: Part I offenses and Part II offenses. Part I offenses are all felonies in most jurisdictions and are considered by many to be the most important assessment of serious crime in America. Part I offenses include the following (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004): Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter Rape Robbery aggravated assault Burglary Larceny Motor vehicle theft Arson Part II offenses include 21 offenses that do not qualify as Part I offenses (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004): Simple assault Forgery and counterfeiting Fraud Embezzlement Possessing, receiving, or buying stolen property Vandalism Weapons possession and carrying Prostitution and commercialized vice Sex offenses Illicit drug abuse Gambling Offenses against children and families Driving under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs Liquor violations Drunkenness Disorderly conduct Vagrancy Curfew and loitering laws Juveniles runaway 1

2 All other offenses Question 2: What factors may contribute to the inaccuracy of UCR in determining America s crime rate? Answer 2: Although the UCR is one of the oldest and most highly recognized official sources of crime data, several factors contribute to its inaccuracy. For example, the UCR program is voluntary, and not every law enforcement agency participates. Latest estimates found that nearly 7% of the nation s population was not represented by a law enforcement agency that contributed data to the UCR. Another issue is that the UCR only collects known offense and arrest data, so the tens of thousands of crimes committed annually that are not reported to law enforcement are unaccounted. In addition, definitions of crimes are often too narrow and do not take into account emerging definitions of crime. For example, according to the language in the UCR, a male cannot be raped because rape is defined as a crime specifically perpetrated against a female. Question 3: What is the hierarchy rule in the UCR, and does it have exceptions? Answer 3:Many experts have begun to question the validity of the UCR as an accurate barometer of crime in America in large part due to something called the hierarchy rule. Under the UCR s hierarchy rule, "... when more than one Part I offense is classified, the law enforcement agency must locate the offense that is highest on the hierarchy list and score that offense involved and not the other offense(s) in the multiple-offense situation" (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004). The practical effect is the underreporting of serious crimes. For example, if an offender broke into a victim s home at night with the intent to commit a crime and while inside committed forcible rape and murder, only the murder would be reported for UCR purposes. Exceptions to the hierarchy rule include the offenses of justifiable homicide, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Question 4: How does historical data reported in the UCR compare with data reported via the NCVS? Answer 4: Proponents of the UCR and National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) make the point that the two collections of data are not strictly comparable because each employs different methodologies, covers different sets of crimes, and classifies offenses in slightly different ways. Further, while 2

3 the UCR reports crime as a ratio to each 100,000 citizens, the NCVS expresses its data in comparison to every 1,000 households. These differences can be seen by comparing similar statistics. For example, according to the UCR, there were an estimated 1,168,300 homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults in 2004; for the same period, the NCVS estimated the actual number of the same crimes to be nearly 500,000 more (1,648,100), which was an increase of almost 33% over the UCR estimate (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005). Question 5: What is the NIBRS, and how is it different from the Uniform Crime Reports? Answer 5: The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is similar to the UCR and is managed by the FBI; however, NIBRS provides an opportunity for law enforcement agencies to report on each individual crime committed. This type of reporting contrasts sharply with the limits imposed on the UCR by requirements like the hierarchy rule. The UCR classifies less than 32 crimes into Part I and II offenses; NIBRS classifies crimes into numerous offense categories (Groups A and B, at the highest level), which in turn encompass 57 crimes in all. NIBRS reporting allows law enforcement agencies to produce more accurate, detailed, and meaningful data than the UCR. However, while it is different from the UCR, NIBRS complements UCR reporting, and most local NIBRS systems support selective reporting of NIBRS data to the UCR program. Question 6: What is the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and what is its primary mission? Answer 6: The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) defines itself as the United States primary source for criminal justice statistics, and its mission is to collect, store, and analyze many types of data related to criminal justice that may benefit the justice agencies and lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005). Chartered in 1979, the BJS officially falls under the Department of Justice and administers numerous statistics and data gathering initiatives, including the NCVS. The BJS also provides research grants to professionals working in the criminal justice and statistical analysis fields and participates in data collection initiatives with other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Census Bureau. Question 7: What causes increases or decreases in crime rates? 3

4 Answer 7: This question is one that is often asked by even the most experienced of criminologists and criminal justice administrators. Theories abound regarding the singular cause of increases or decreases in crime rates, but data have consistently supported several variables as having an independent impact on crime. For example, most experts agree that marked economic or social change in a specific location will generally affect the crime rate. For example, a former residential neighborhood may find itself engulfed by a city s new business district because of downtown expansion projects, causing shifts in crime patterns. Massive layoffs and spikes in unemployment have been linked with increased crime rates, as have factors such as hotter temperatures. In contrast, anticrime initiatives and early intervention programs, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Police Athletics Leagues (PAL) are examples of programs that have been credited with taking crime rates in the other direction, making the streets safer for a jurisdiction s citizens. Question 8: What are transition zones? Answer 8: Sociological theories of criminology address issues of social control and disorganization. An important point in the history of sociological theory was work performed by a group of researchers known as the Chicago School. Among its chief ideas was what the group members called the Concentric Zone Model. This model viewed a developing city as a series of concentric circles radiating outward from the business district at the center through the following zones: Transitional: Filled with recent immigrants, dilapidated homes and buildings, and factories Working class: Single family apartments and public housing Residential: Single family homes with yards and garages Commuter: Suburbs and exurbs Chicago School researchers asserted that because of nearly constant social change in the transitional zones, crime rates remained highest in those areas (Social Disorganization, 2005). Question 9: Can statistics be misleading? Answer 9: Statistics are virtually meaningless without context and can often be misleading. For example, imagine that a website proposes that children with larger feet are better spellers. This statistic is interesting, but without 4

5 proper context, its meaning is unclear. When one looks at the fact that children with bigger feet are generally older than those with smaller feet, most likely having had more formal schooling and practice at spelling, the statistic loses some of its importance (Paulos, 2005). Question 10: Why do so many crimes in America go unreported? Answer 10: Many factors affect why some crimes are reported to law enforcement while many more are never brought to the official attention of the criminal justice system. Crimes are often not reported by victims who believe they will suffer from the involvement of the police, such as instances in which the victim is involved in wrongdoing or fears additional reprisals from the victimizer. Victims who are embarrassed by their victimization, such as males who are raped or domestic violence victims, may prefer to move on with their lives rather than involve the police. Some victims are virtually unable to report their own victimization, such as very young children or the disabled. In some cases, an officer on the scene exercises discretion and the crime is not officially entered into criminal justice channels. Although many crimes do not officially come to the attention of the authorities, these crimes are still very real and help make up what many experts call the dark figure of crime. References Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2005). National crime victimization survey violent crime trends, Retrieved from Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2004). Uniform crime reporting handbook. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Paulos, J. A. (2005). Correlation and causation: Misuse and misconception of statistical fact. Retrieved from the Cut the Knot Web site: Social disorganization and control theories. (2005). Retrieved from the University of Missouri - St. Louis Web site: 5

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