Ways of Reporting on Crime Data
The two primary sources of crime statistics used in the United States are the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Both systems are characterized by a number of features which result in strengths and/or weaknesses. Current essay compares and contrasts these two ways of reporting on crimes, describes their advantages and disadvantages, and judges the impact of criminological theory and research on social policy.
According to Summary of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, in the 1920s, the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) created the Committee on Uniform Crime Records to form a system of uniform crime statistics. In 1929, the Committee laid the foundation of the UCR Program after investigating the existing recordkeeping practices. The “pre-UCR Program” included standardized offense definitions for seven major offense classifications known as Part I crimes and the Rule as the main reporting procedure. According to Summary of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, the offence classifications included: “the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft” (p.2). In 1979, arson was added to the classifications as the eighth Part I offense category by congressional mandate. In 1930, 400 cities with 20 million inhabitants in 43 states took part in the URC Program. The Attorney General was allowed to collect crime data by the Congress. The FBI was designated as the national clearing house for the crime information gathered. The Nation’s law enforcement agencies started to report on offences and arrests with the help of uniform classifications and reporting procedures.
According to Summary of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, in the 1980s, the UCR Program was modernized. The redesign was conducted to help the UCR Program better meet the future informational requirements and consisted of three parts. Firstly, agencies were obliged to use an incident-based system while reporting offences and arrests. Secondly, crime information would be collected by the UCR Program on two levels (limited and full participation). And thirdly, a quality assurance program was introduced. In 1988, the FBI held a National UCR Conference where the redesigned UCR Program was presented. Moreover, at the Conference it was decided to establish a new, incident-based national crime reporting system subordinated to the FBI.
According to Summary of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, in 1989, the UCR Program received the first test submission of NIBRS. The documents with the information on the redesigned program were published by the UCR Program. The NIBRS was originally designed with 52 data elements but later their quantity increased to 57. They are divided into six segments: administrative, victim, offender, property, offence and arrestee. Mmodifications of the NIBRS included adding four additional pieces of information: bias-motivated offenses, presence of gang activity, data for law enforcement officers killed and assaulted and data on cargo theft. At the beginning of implementation of the NIBRS very few of the agencies used this program for crime reporting. Since that time their number has been constantly increasing. According to Summary of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), in 2009, 44% of agencies were certified for the NIBRS participation; 13 sates report all their crime data via the NIBRS.
Law enforcement agencies usually report the quantity and types of known offences, the number of such crimes cleared, personal characteristics of arrestee or arrestees, law enforcement disposition of juveniles and low enforcement employee data to the UCR. This information later becomes tabulated. The UCR uses effective follow-up system to ensure that all reports are submitted. While reporting through the URC, law enforcement agencies must clarify and score all known offences. All attempts to commit a crime are classified as thought they were actually committed, except for the attempts or assaults to murder if the victim does not die. Such offences are considered to be aggravated assaults. When law enforcement agencies find classifying some unusual incidents difficult, they should take into account the nature of a crime and the instructions published in the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook. Scoring is calculating the number of offences after the classifying. Considering scoring the category of a crime, iIn the UCR all crimes are divided into two categories: Crimes Against the Person and Crimes Against Property. Usually, in Crimes Against the Person the number of victims defines the number of crimes. Due to unique nature of arson, this crime is reported separately using a special procedure.
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The NIBRS collect crime data of 22 crime categories. These categories are made up of 46 crimes that belong to the so called Group A offences. Besides, there are 10 crime categories that are labeled as the Group B offences. For the Group B, only arrest data are reported. Credibility of the information reported is a high priority of the NIBRS and FBI. The UCR checks all the data reported by the NIBRS for accuracy. Moreover, the quality control service indicates any unusual fluctuations in the quantity of crimes and informs FBI. Sometimes the unexplained increase or decline in the number of crimes committed in the specific area could be the result of a reporting error.
As the NIBRS is the result of an attempt to redesign the UCR, the two systems of crime reporting share a lot of common features. Both the NIBRS and the URC are managed by the FBI. One more similar feature is that these two systems report crimes of categories Crimes Against Persons and Crimes Against Property. Both systems use special offence codes while reporting on crimes, although, these codes are different for the two systems. While the UCR System uses only numbers, the NIBRS combines numbers with letters. Nevertheless, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook: “all offenses reported to the UCR Program, regardless of what the offense is called at the local, state, tribal, or federal level, must conform to the UCR classification of offenses” (p.6). The NIBRS shares the same practice. Another important feature that is common for both the UCR and the NIBRS is that law enforcement agencies should report on crimes that took place in an area within their jurisdiction. This rule excludes repeating reports about an offence. Crimes that occur within the jurisdiction of a city have to be reported by the city law enforcement agencies, offences happened outside the city are reported by the country or state law enforcement agencies. Offences that have not been reported by city or state law enforcement agencies have to be reported by federal agencies. In case if two or more agencies of different levels are involved in solving of one offence, there has to be an oral or written agreement which will state what agency has to report the offence.
The main difference between the NIBRS and the UCR is the amount of details. The UCR collects information about the number of known crimes and the number of crimes cleared while the NIBRS generates more detailed information about bigger amount of cases. The NIBRS collects information including description of the victim and the offender, connections between the perpetrator and the victim, injures at the crime scene, weapons and the location of the incident. Moreover, the NIBRS reports the third category – Crimes Against Society, in addition to the two categories that are common for both reporting systems. The category of Crimes against Society includes offences that have neither victim nor deal with property but rather represent prohibition on engaging in certain kinds of criminal activity. According to A Guide to Understanding NIBRS, the Crimes Against Society include drug/narcotic violations, drug equipment violations, operating/promoting/assisting gambling, betting/wagering, gambling equipment violations, promoting prostitution, prostitution, sports tampering, weapon law violations, assisting or liquor law violations, drunkenness, curfew/loitering/vagrancy violations, driving under the influence, nonviolent family offenses, peeping Tom, disorderly conduct and trespass of real property. In classification of the URC these crimes belong to the Part II Offenses on which only the arrest information is reported.
Another notable feature that gives the NIBRS advantage over the UCR is revised and expanded offense definitions. The changes included adding the offence of intimidation to the category of assault as well as many specific sex offences. Moreover, with the help of the NIBRS law enforcing agencies could report about crimes that were committed through the use of a computer. This issue is very important because as the technological progress is taking place such crimes are becoming more and more common.
Unlike the UCR, the NIBRS collects information about the arrest in each accident. The NIBRS tracks 46 crimes in comparison with 8 crimes tracked by the UCR. Another specific feature is that the UCR does not collect information about simple assaults which are the most common acts of domestic violence and are among the most frequent crimes in the USA. Not taking into account these cases result in serious inaccuracy in calculating the total amount of crimes. Besides, unlike the UCR, the NIBRS provides users with an option of linking the update to the original accident which is also very convenient for the researchers.
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Another specific feature that differentiates the reporting procedure of the UCR is the Hierarchy Rule which means that if the criminal is responsible for multiple offences, only the most serious of them will be reported. For instance, if the offender raped a woman and then murdered her, only the murder will be reported to the URC. A Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook state that the criminal homicide is the highest in the hierarchy and arson is the lowest. Other crimes that take high places in the hierarchy are forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Each category subdivides into types of an offence. For example, the category of Robbery includes four types of this offence: Firearm, Knife or Cutting Instrument, Other Dangerous Weapon and Strong-arm—Hands, Fists, Feet, etc. Firearm robbery is considered to be the most serious type of robberies and is at the first place in the hierarchy of robberies. The NIBRS requires reporting multiple offences, including information about all victims, offenders and crimes. Up to ten different types of crimes could be reported in one incident to the NIBRS. In the UCR, however, there are several exceptions to the Hierarchy Rule, such as motor vehicle theft, justifiable homicide and arson. Moreover, there are four basic units of count for the Group A in the NIBRS: incidents, victims, offences and known offenders. The NIBRS also expands application of the Hotel Rule which is used to reduce the number of reported burglaries in several dwellings under the same manager. The NIBRS applies this rule not only to temporary lodgings but also to rental storage facilities. According to Data Collection Guidelines for NIBRS: “In order to determine the number of structures or enclosures that were burglarized, the number of rooms, units, suites, storage compartments, etc., that were broken into is to be reported” (p.15). One more important point is that the UCR, unlike the NIBRS, does differentiate between the committed and attempted crimes. Another significant advantage of the NIBRS is that the reports could be submitted electronically with no manual input. This makes the NIBRS better prepared for the requirements of modern technological era.
The higher degree of detail and the increased accuracy provided by the NIBRS have a considerable affect upon the low enforcement and research. The NIBRS helps police officers to acquire more information about the specific type of offence and evaluate crime rate in the region. The NIBRS made a significant contribution to the research, especially the research on domestic violence, dual arrests and drug distribution. According to Faggiani and McLaughlin: “the NIBRS permit the opportunity to analyze the specific types of narcotic-related offences (e.g., possession and selling/distribution), which significantly enhances the potential utility of the NIBRS data to the local law enforcement” (p.182).
Furthermore, collecting data about the perpetrator and the victim as well as the relationship among them is vitally important from the point of victimology. Nowadays, this science is becoming more and more popular since victimology can contribute much to solving and preventing crimes. It helps to understand psychology of the offender and the way of committing a crime, allows to evaluate the danger which perpetrator poses to society and differentiate potential victims. Moreover, the relationship between criminals and victims creates many assumptions and stereotypes which very often significantly influence the way an offender is treated by the court. The NIBRS collects Defining the qualities common for many victims and circumstances of an offence could shed some light on the factors which increase the risk of becoming a random victim and only the NIBRS collects data about the circumstances of a crime. For these reasons, the NIBRS plays a significant role in criminological studies.
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However, one drawback of the NIBRS is that it is not as widely-spread as the UCR. Besides, different law enforcement agencies report under one of the two reporting systems which creates difficulties for researches. Implementation of the Hierarchy Rule in the UCR System results in various discrepancies that occur while comparing the data from the UCR and the NIBRS. The number of crimes reported to the NIBRS appears to be bigger than the number of offences reported to the UCR. A Guide to Understanding NIBRS states that: “because the NIBRS is not yet national in scope, data users should be cautious in extrapolating conclusions from published data; data quality issues with the NIBRS are still evolving and statistical compatibility with other crime information systems remains to be studied” (p.3).
The degree of details in crime reports is vitally important for criminological research. Criminologists and sociologists invent various theories that turn into social policies. Complete and precise information about the criminals and their victims, their age, gender, ethnicity, relationship, social status as well as motifs and circumstances of committing crimes could create the portrait of a specific area and help to find a solution of a problem of high criminal rates in the area and in the whole country. Preventing crimes is more preferable then solving them and the law enforcement agencies and social institutions have to do everything possible to define whether the public theory is connected to the crime rate and to what extent. In other words, it is important to clarify the factors that encourage people to commit a crime or, on the contrary, to become a victim. Research could help to find out why areas with high criminal rate continue to exist even after the considerable changes in its social composition. For this purpose reporting about the circumstances of crimes by NIBRS could be helpful.
Moreover, according to A Guide to Understanding NIBRS, the system provides other valuable data that could be applied in victimilogy and criminology: “the value of property; the offender’s bias motivation (if present) toward the victim’s real or perceived race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability; and information regarding law enforcement officers killed or assaulted” for the Group A and “information about the age, sex, race, and ethnicity of arrestees; arrest offense code; weapon arrestee was armed with; resident status of the arrestee; and disposition of the arrestee who was under age 18” for the Group B (p.3). Furthermore, research carried by criminologists and sociologist with the help of the UCR and the NIBRS could help to generate publicity to many social problems and to implement changes in various areas of life, for instance, in the sphere of education and culture.
To sum up, law enforcement agencies in the United States report on crimes through two major reporting systems: the UCR (Uniform Crime Report) and the NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System). The UCR was created in the 1920s due to the need for crime statistics. The system was managed by FBI. Law enforcement agencies around the United States started to report on crimes using uniform classification and specific procedures. In the 1980s, several attempts to modernize the URC were made resulting in establishment of new incident-based reporting system which better metthe requirements of the modern technological era and allowed to collect more detailed information about the offences. The new system was called the NIBRS and was implemented by only a few agencies at first.
Nowadays, the number of law enforcement agencies reporting through the NIBRS is relatively big and is constantly increasing, although, the system has not covered all the United States yet.
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The NIBRS and the UCR have many common features. Both systems are controlled by FBI. Law enforcement agencies report to these systems only the crimes that took place in the areas within their jurisdiction to avoid reporting about one offence several times. Both systems use a set of special offence codes to report about crimes.
However, the UCR and the NIBRS have more different features then common. The main difference between the two systems is the degree of details. While to the URC mostly only the number of committed and cleared crimes is reported, the NIBRS collects information about an offender and a victim, their relationship, circumstances of committing a crime, its location, etc. Besides, the NIBRS collect information about bigger number of accidents because this system does not implement the Hierarchy Rule when there is a hierarchy of crimes and if multiple crimes are committed by one offender only the most serious crime is reported.
Besides, the NIBRS generates more exhaustive information about crimes because it divides them into three categories, unlike the UCR which uses only two categories, such as Crimes Against the Person and Crimes Against Property. The NIBRS has the third category referred to as the Crimes Against Society. The database of the NIBRS is available electronically which is very convenient for those who use it for a research.
Higher degree of details provided by the NIBRS allows criminologist and sociologists investigating wide variety of crimes, especially domestic violence, crimes connected with drugs and computers and many others. The data about a perpetrator and a victim, their relationship is very useful in the victimology. Criminological and social research based on the data of the NIBRS could substantively contribute to solving many important crime issues, such as the reasons of becoming a criminal or a victim, the problem of persistence of the regions with high criminal rate and preventing crimes among others.
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