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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey
further reductions in sample size. To be clear, though, abandonment of the NCVS is not an option that we favor in any way.
Annual national-level estimates from the NCVS are routinely used in conjunction with the UCR to describe the volume and nature of crime in the United States. There is great value in having two complementary but nonidentical systems—the NCVS and the UCR—addressing the same phenomenon, for the basic reason that crime and victimization are topics that are too broad to be captured neatly by one measure. The police are not a disinterested party when it comes to characterizing the crime problem, and it is unwise to have data generated by the police as a sole measure of crime nationally. The UCR tells us little about the victims of crime; although its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) has the potential to capture some of the detail currently measured by the NCVS, NIBRS has substantial limitations and remains incapable of providing national-level estimates after 20 years of implementation. Moreover, it is clear that a substantial proportion of crime is not reported fully and completely to law enforcement authorities. Thus, there remains a vital role for a survey-based measure that sheds light on unreported crime.
Recommendation 3.1:BJS must ensure that the nation hasquality annual estimates of levels and changes in criminal victimization.
The current design of the NCVS has benefited from years of experience, methodological research, and evaluation; it is a good and useful model that has been adopted by international victimization surveys as well as subnational surveys within the United States. The principal fault of the current NCVS is not a design flaw or methodological deficiency, or even that the design inherently costs too much to sustain, but rather—simply—that it costs more than is tenable under current budgetary priorities. In its present size and configuration, the NCVS can permit insights into the dynamics of victimization. However, in our assessment, the current NCVS falls short of the vibrant measure of annual change in crime that was envisioned at the survey’s outset.
Finding 3.1: As currently configured and funded, the NCVS is not achieving and cannot achieve BJS’s legislatively mandated goal to “collect and analyze data that will serve as a continuous and comparable national social indication of the prevalence, incidence, rates, extent, distribution, and attributes of crime …” (42 U.S.C. 3732(c)(3)).
By several measures—comparison with the expenditures of foreign countries for similar measurement efforts or with the cost of crime in the United