dents with the short, concrete items typically used in surveys (for a fuller discussion, see Skogan, 1981:7-10).


The National Crime Survey and its successor, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), underwent lengthy development periods featuring record check studies and split-ballot experiments to determine the best way to measure crime victimization. In the records check studies, the samples included known crime victims selected from police records. In survey parlance, these were studies of reverse records check—the records had been “checked” before the survey reports were ever elicited. The studies were done in Washington, D.C., Akron, Cleveland, Dayton, San Jose, and Baltimore (see Lehnen and Skogan, 1981, for a summary). A key objective of these early studies was to determine the best length for the reporting period for a survey, balancing the need to increase the number of crime reports with the need to reduce memory errors.

A second wave of studies informing the NCS design was carried out in the early 1980s by researchers at the Bureau of Social Science Research and the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan (summarized by Martin et al., 1986). This second wave of developmental studies mainly involved split-ballot comparisons (in which random portions of the sample were assigned to different versions of the questionnaire) focusing on the “screening” items, in which respondents first indicate they have relevant incidents to report. Some of these studies were inspired by a conference (described in Biderman, 1980) that brought cognitive psychologists and survey researchers together to examine the memory issues raised by the NCS. Unfortunately, some of the most intriguing findings from the resulting experiments were never published and are buried in hard-to-find memoranda.

For several reasons, the NCVS results are widely used as benchmarks to which statistics from other surveys on crime and crime victimization are compared. Conducted by the Bureau of the Census, the NCVS is the largest and oldest of the crime victimization studies. It uses a rotating panel design in which respondents are interviewed several times before they are “retired” from the sample, a design that greatly improves the precision of sample estimates. It uses a relatively short, six-month reporting period and “bounded” interviewing, in which respondents are instructed to report only incidents that have occurred since the previous interview and are reminded

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