examine local employment records. That information is routinely compiled, stored, and updated in centralized records systems that can be accessed by local, state, and national officials, researchers, the press, and the public. These information systems constitute the basis of a policy evaluation infrastructure that is indispensable for assessing economic policy in the United States. Comparable evaluation capabilities do not exist in the policy area of criminal justice (Rosenfeld, 2006).
The nation lacks a comprehensive, coherent, and up-to-date infrastructure to monitor crime trends and relay the resulting information to law enforcement agencies, researchers, policy makers, and the public. The federal government sponsors two major crime data collection programs, the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Crime Victimization Survey of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although both programs provide essential information about crime levels, patterns, and trends, neither does so with the speed and level of detail necessary to inform local law enforcement planning or state and national policy responses to emerging crime problems. The paucity of high-quality information for criminal justice planning and research stands in sharp contrast to the rich assortment of monthly and quarterly data collections on specific topics that characterizes other policy areas. The rapid and continuous public dissemination of economic data and forecasts (“economists predict slowdown in next quarter,” “monthly housing starts off by 2 percent”) has no equivalent in criminal justice, even though timely information on changes in serious violent and property crime rates is just as vital to the nation’s health and welfare as information on changing levels of industrial production or consumer prices.
The FBI’s UCR do provide national and local crime indicators, but the UCR data are released several months after the relevant reporting period. The year-end 2005 data, for example, were not released until September 2006, and the preliminary data for the first six months of 2006 were not available until December of that year (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm). Even though the time lags have been shortened in recent years, they often extend well beyond the planning and response horizons of local jurisdictions. Without timely crime indicators to draw on, Justice Department officials were caught short when police chiefs and mayors from around the country assembled in Washington, DC, in August 2006, to demand federal assistance in combating local crime increases (Files, 2006). The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) later reported sharp crime increases on the basis of a survey of the cities represented at the August meeting (Johnson, 2006; the PERF report is available at http://www.policeforum.org). But the