about “new” types of crime that are of concern to the public. Since its inception, the NCVS survey instrument has added new measures of criminal victimization and improved existing measures; this was particularly the case with the 1992 redesign, which was intended to improve the survey’s measures of rape and sexual assault, nonstranger violence, and other “gray area” victimizations. However, the most common option to provide flexibility in topical coverage in the NCVS has been through the addition of supplemental questionnaires, most often at the behest of other government agencies. School violence is one example of a type of victimization for which periodic supplements to the NCVS have been developed and administered, in this case with the cooperation and sponsorship of the National Center for Education Statistics. Conducted in 1999, 2002, and 2005, the School Crime Supplement provides estimates of crime independent of the statistics gathered by police or by the schools. Over time, some of these supplemental questions have migrated into the main NCVS content, as with questions related to hate crimes.
In theory, a survey is a relatively nimble data collection vehicle—certainly compared with official-records methodology, in which changes in data collection depend on the cooperation of the myriad local agencies that assemble raw data—and so the NCVS instrument (or individual modules) should be able to be rapidly moved from concept to data collection. In practice, however, this process has often taken quite considerable amounts of time. For instance, the measurement of hate crimes using the NCVS began in response to a White House announcement in 1997 that directly offered the NCVS as the instrument of choice for estimating this crime. Research and development of questions using multiple rounds of focus groups and cognitive testing began soon thereafter. Nonetheless, the final set of questions was not administered to the full sample until 2000 (Lee et al., 1999; Lewis, 2002; Lauritsen, 2005). Some of the delay resulted from the complexity of the issue: for example, some focus group participants had trouble deciphering the hate crime terminology, others were unclear about the kinds of evidence that were necessary for such a designation, and some felt that queries about sexual orientation should not be asked. Still other factors that contributed to the delay resulted from the fact that the survey had not yet been fully computer-automated because of persistent budget difficulties.
To some extent, the perceived slowness in implementing new measures and rigidity in approach have been attributed to the Census Bureau as the data collector for the NCVS and other federal surveys. Certainly, major change does not occur easily or quickly in the bureau’s flagship product, the decennial census—for instance, the switch to the mail (rather than personal visit) as the principal collection mode for the 1970 census was preceded by major tests dating back to 1948. More recently, the 2006 full-scale implementation of the bureau’s American Community Survey followed a decade