Box 1-1

Major Steps in the Development of the National Crime Victimization Survey

  • 1967: The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1967) issues its final report. The report contrasts results of its 10,000-household National Survey of Criminal Victims (conducted by the National Opinion Research Center), as well as city-level victim surveys for Washington, Chicago, and Boston (conducted by the Bureau of Social Science Research and the University of Michigan Survey Research Center), with the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Concluding that lack of information on offenses not reported to police makes it difficult to develop useful crime policy, the commission recommends the development of a nationwide crime victimization survey. Procedurally, the commission’s recommendations also lead to the 1968 establishment of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in the U.S. Department of Justice.

  • 1968: Initial discussions between the LEAA and the Census Bureau take place on a national survey of crime victims. The Census Bureau conducts two staff workshops on the scope and basic design of such a survey, resulting in a conference report (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1968).

  • 1970–1971: Pretesting—small-scale tests, most involving reverse record checks (interviews with known victims of crimes reported to police), are conducted in Washington, DC; Akron, Cleveland, and Dayton, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; and San Jose, California. Testing in San Jose and Dayton included the fielding of surveys to a sample of about 5,000 households in each site.

  • 1971–1972: Initial implementation as supplement—victimization questions are added to the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Household Survey. The first such nationwide sample, in January 1971, had a sample size of 15,000 housing units and asked respondents to recall events within a 12-month reference period. (The same supplement was used in 1972, using a 6-month reference period.) Subsequent iterations were used to refine the design of questionnaires and instructions. These surveys-as-supplements were intended only as an experiment and not the basis for published reports.

  • July 1972: The new National Crime Surveys—jointly developed by the LEAA and the Census Bureau—are fielded. The core National Crime Panel is a sample of 72,000 households; one-sixth of the sample were to be interviewed monthly and then again at 6-month intervals. The suite of surveys also includes a national sample of 15,000 businesses, as well as a sample of 12,000 households and 2,000 businesses in each of 26 major cities, to support local-area estimates of victimization. These “Cities Surveys” begin in 8 “impact cities” and are fielded in sets of the cities over the next 3 years.

  • 1976: The Panel on the Evaluation of Crime Surveys of the National Research Council (1976b) releases its final report, Surveying Crime. The major recommendations of the panel are summarized in Appendix B; among the recommendations is that the Cities Surveys be abandoned in order to support the core national household sample.

  • 1986: Redesign phase-in—following the recommendations of a redesign consortium, small-scale changes to the survey and its instruments are implemented, with the larger scale changes originally intended to be implemented in 1989.



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