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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey
As presently implemented, the NCVS is a major national household survey using a rotating panel sample of addresses: after an address is chosen for the survey, each person age 12 or older in the household at that address is interviewed seven times at 6-month intervals. The first interview with a household is always done by personal visit, but subsequent interviews may be done by telephone if a number is available. The first portion of the post-1992 NCVS is a screening questionnaire, using detailed questions to elicit counts and basic information about crime victimization incidents in the preceding 6 months. An incident report is then prepared for each incident detected in the screener, including a battery of questions on the context of each event. (The operations of the NCVS are described in more detail in Appendix C.) In 2005, the NCVS was administered to approximately 38,600 households, yielding interviews with 67,000 people. Sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the U.S. Department of Justice, the field collection of the NCVS is performed by the U.S. Census Bureau.3 Annually, BJS publishes reports and summary tables from the NCVS in two continuing report series, Criminal Victimization and Crime and the Nation’s Households (see, e.g., Catalano, 2006; Klaus, 2007). BJS also uses NCVS data as the basis for periodic or one-shot reports on a wide array of topics and victimization types, including carjacking (Klaus, 1999, 2004), firearm use in crime (Rand, 1994; Zawitz, 1995), perceptions of neighborhood crime (DeFrances and Smith, 1998), victimization of college students (Baum and Klaus, 2005), and workplace violence (Warchol, 1998).
Over its 35-year history—major highlights of which are listed in Box 1-1—the NCVS has been a uniquely valuable source of information on crime. Intended to shed light on the “dark figure of crime”—the phrase coined by Biderman and Reiss (1967) to describe criminal incidents that are not reported to police—it is frequently used in conjunction with data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, through which the Fed-
level surveys of businesses as well as national and city-level household surveys. The national household survey component—originally referred to as the National Crime Panel program—was the only part to survive into the late 1970s and became known as the National CrimeSurvey (singular), commonly abbreviated as NCS. This remained the standard nomenclature until the 1992 switch to National Crime Victimization Survey or NCVS. In this report, we use NCS in direct quotations when applicable, but generally use NCVS as the descriptor.
Another terminological note is in order for references to BJS. The organizational unit responsible for developing and analyzing the survey was—as of 1970—known as the NationalCriminal Justice Statistics Center. By mid-decade, it was dubbed the National Criminal Justice Information and Statistics Service (NCJISS) and was a constituent component of the LawEnforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1984, reauthorization legislation dispersed the functions of the LEAA throughout a new Office of Justice Programs (OJP) in the Justice Department, overseen by an assistant attorney general. The statistical and data-gathering functions of the former NCJISS were vested in the new Bureau ofJustice Statistics (BJS). As with references to the NCVS, we tend to use “BJS” to describe the agency, regardless of the exact date in question, except in direct quotations.