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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey –D– The Uniform Crime Reporting Program Coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program is a cooperative program of law enforcement agencies that produces aggregate data on crimes reported to police. UCR data collection began in January 1930, drawing information from 400 U.S. cities; as of 2004, 17,000 law enforcement agencies participate in UCR (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:Foreword). As it has evolved, the UCR program consists of two major systems: the long-established Summary Reporting System (SRS) and a newer, more detailed reporting system—the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS)—that is poised to eventually supplant the SRS but has been slow to develop. We discuss these two component systems in turn. The major features of the UCR compared with the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) are summarized in Table D-1. D–1 SUMMARY REPORTING SYSTEM D–1.a Index Crimes The core content of the Uniform Crime Reporting program inherits directly from the work of a Committee on Uniform Crime Records convened by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in 1927. “Recognizing a need for national crime statistics,” that committee “evaluated various crimes on the basis of their seriousness, frequency of occurrence, perva-
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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey Table D-1 National Data Sources Related to Crime Victimization in the United States Data Characteristics NCVS UCR Summary NIBRS Target population Noninstitutionalized persons age 12 and older in the United States Crime incidents occurring in the United States Crime incidents occurring in the United States Unit of observation Individual Law enforcement agency Crime incident Estimated coverage Nationally representative sample 94.2 percent of United States population covered by agencies active in UCR reporting Approximately 25 percent of United States population covered by agencies reporting in NIBRS format Types of victimization covered Criminal Homicide No Yes Yes Other Index Crimes Yes Yes Yes Geographic areas identified Region Yes Yes Yes State Yes Yes Yes County Yes Yes Yes Census Tract Yes No No Demographic coverage Age Yes No No Race Yes No Yes Sex Res No Yes Ethnicity Res No Yes Vulnerable groups Children 12 & older No Yes Immigrants (native born) No No No Disabled (learning disability only) No No No Elderly Yes No No Timeliness of data availability Time between reference period and data availability Pre-announced schedule Yes Yes Yes Fixed schedule Yes Yes Yes Accuracy and quality Sampling error Routinely estimated Unmeasured Unmeasured Other errors (nonsampling) No ongoing evaluation Unknown Unknown
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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey siveness in all geographic areas, and likelihood of being reported to law enforcement” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:2). Although the labels have changed slightly, the seven crimes identified by the 1927 IACP committee remain the focus of today’s Uniform Crime Reports and are known as “Part I offenses.” Three of these are crimes against persons—criminal homicide, forcible rape, and aggravated assault—and four are crimes against property: robbery, burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. The only substantive change to this list of Part I offenses was made in 1978, when legislation directed that arson be designated a Part I offense; however, arson continues to be reported on a separate form rather than the standard “Return A” used to report the other Part I offenses. The Part I offenses are also known as “index crimes” because they are used to derive a general, national indicator of criminality—the national Crime Index. The index—first computed and reported in 1958—consists of the sum of the seven original Part I offenses, except that larceny is restricted to thefts of over $50. D–1.b Hierarchy Rule The general order in which the Part I offenses are listed is not accidental. Instead, with some interleaving, the listing of offenses defines a strict hierarchy that agencies are asked to follow in coding offenses. In descending order, the UCR hierarchy by Part I offense and suboffense is as follows: Criminal homicide Murder and nonnegligent manslaughter Manslaughter by negligence Forcible rape Rape by force Attempts to commit forcible rape Robbery Firearm Knife or cutting instrument Other dangerous weapon Strong-arm (hands, fists, feet, etc.) Aggravated assault Firearm Knife or cutting instrument
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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey Other dangerous weapon Strong-arm (hands, fists, feet, etc.) Burglary Forcible entry Unlawful entry (no force) Attempted forcible entry Larceny-theft (except motor vehicle theft) Motor vehicle theft Autos Trucks and buses Other vehicles Arson –g. Structural –i. Mobile Other For purposes of UCR collection, the FBI directs that multiple-offense situations—incidents in which more than one crime is committed simultaneously—are to be handled by “locat[ing] the offense that is highest on the hierarchy list and scor[ing] that offense involved and not the other offense(s)” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:10). However, three major exceptions to the general hierarchy rule are defined. First, motor vehicle theft—as a special class of larceny, generally—can outrank larceny; hence, the theft of a car with valuables inside it would be coded as a motor vehicle theft (trumping the classification as larceny) even if the vehicle is subsequently recovered but the valuables are not. Arson is also a special case because it is reported on a separate form from the other Part I offense: multiple-offense crimes involving arson can include two reported Part I offenses, the arson tally on the separate schedule and the highest-ranking Part I offense under the usual rule reported on Return A. The third exception to the hierarchy rule is justifiable homicide, “defined as and limited to the killing of a felon by a police officer in the line of duty [or] the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.” By this definition, justifiable homicide necessarily “occurs in conjunction with other offenses”; those offenses are the ones to be considered in classifying the incident. Addington (2007:229) notes that the NCVS uses a “seriousness hierarchy”—comparable to the UCR hierarchy rule—for classification of
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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey events in incident count tabulations. However, the NCVS practice differs from the UCR rule in that “the NCVS collects and preserves information for each crime occurring in the incident, which enables researchers to create their own classification scheme;” in comparison, application of the UCR hierarchy rule collapses incidents involving several crime types to record just one type, losing the full incident detail. D–1.c Supplemental Reports In the Summary Reporting System, participating agencies are asked to report counts of all Part I offenses known to law enforcement on a standard, monthly form known as Return A. However, Return A is not the only data collection requested by the FBI. The Summary Reporting System also asks participating agencies to complete additional forms, at various intervals: Age, race, and sex arrest data: On a monthly basis, agencies are asked to provide counts of completed arrests by the age, race, and sex of the arrestee(s). Specifically, the age, sex, and race breakdowns are required for arrests for each of the Part II offenses, making these data the UCR’s only systematic source of information on these offenses as well as the only source of offender attributes.1 Law enforcement officers killed and assaulted: Data collected annually since 1972. Hate crime statistics: The Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 led to the collection of a variable on “bias motivation in incidents in which the offense resulted in whole or in part because of the offender’s prejudice against a race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin” (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:3). The scope of hate crimes reported in this series was expanded in 1994 to include crimes motivated by victims’ physical or mental disability. Supplementary homicide reports: Since 1962, reporting agencies have also been asked to complete Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR). 1 The 21 offenses currently tallied as Part II offenses are other assaults; forgery and counterfeiting; fraud; embezzlement; stolen property (buying, receiving, possessing); vandalism; weapons (carrying, possessing, etc.); prostitution and commercialized vice; sex offenses; drug abuse violations; gambling; offenses against the family and children; driving under the influence; liquor laws; drunkenness; disorderly conduct; vagrancy; all other offenses; suspicion; curfew and loitering laws (persons under 18); and runaways (persons under 18) (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:8).
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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey D–2 NATIONAL INCIDENT-BASED REPORTING SYSTEM The Uniform Crime Reporting Program Handbook (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004:3) describes the origin of a new, more detailed format for the UCR as follows: By the 1980s, law enforcement was calling for a complete overhaul and modernization of the UCR Program. At a conference on the future of UCR, which was held in Elkridge, Maryland, in 1984, participants began developing a national data collection system that would gather information about each crime incident. By the end of the decade, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) was operational. NIBRS collects data on each incident and arrest within 22 offense categories made up of 46 specific crimes called Group A offenses. For each incident known to police within these categories, law enforcement collects administrative, offense, victim, property, offender, and arrestee information. In addition to the Group A offenses, there are 11 Group B offenses for which only arrest data are collected. The intent of NIBRS is to take advantage of available crime data maintained in modern law enforcement records systems. Providing considerably more detail, NIBRS yields richer and more meaningful data than those produced by the traditional summary UCR system. The conference attendees recommended that the implementation of national incident-based reporting proceed at a pace commensurate with the resources and limitations of contributing law enforcement agencies. The NIBRS incident report is quite intricate and allows for great flexibility in the coding of individual events: spanning 46 offense categories, each incident report can include up to 10 offenses, 3 weapons, 10 relationships to victim, and 2 circumstance codes. Although development of NIBRS began with a 1984 conference, a major impediment to the system’s usefulness is that the “pace commensurate with the resources and limitations of contributing law enforcement agencies” envisioned in 1984 has turned out to be extremely slow. As of September 2007, the Justice Research and Statistics Association2 estimated that only about 25 percent of the nation’s population is included in NIBRS-compliant jurisdictions. In all, about 26 percent of agencies that supply data to the UCR do so using the NIBRS format. Among the states that have not yet implemented NIBRS are California, New York, and Pennsylvania; in Illinois, the only NIBRS participant to data is the Rockford Police Department. Five states—Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Wyoming—have not yet specified any formal plan for participation in NIBRS. 2 See http://www.jrsa.org/ibrrc/background-status/nibrs_states.shtml [12/1/07].