Crime Statistics and the Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
By: Jim Kouri, CPP
An old professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City once told me: Crime statistics are much like women’s bikinis — what they show is important; what they don’t show is vital. I’ve always remembered those words.
When studying crime statistics, usually one peruses Crime in the United States (CIUS), published annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is a compilation of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) provided by over 18,000 policing jurisdictions. It represents one of the two primary sources of data about crime in the United States, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) being the other.
While the NCVS is a very reliable indicator of national trends in crime, it is based on a survey of under 50,000 households and thus cannot provide local information on crime, which is provided by the FBI’s UCR and CIUS.
Not only does CIUS provide local information about crime incidence, it also compiles arrest data from these jurisdictions; these data permit law enforcement and policymakers to form a picture of who is committing crime (or at least, who is arrested for committing crime).
Reporting to the FBI remains for many jurisdictions is a voluntary activity. Although many States now mandate that agencies report crime and arrest data to them (which they then forward to the FBI), even in those States local agencies do not always comply.
Moreover, despite the efforts of the FBI to maintain their quality, there are many gaps in the data that make their use questionable. While this has had limited impact in the past, the fact that the UCR data have, for the first time, been used to allocate Federal funds brings issues about data quality to center stage. In other words, there’s fear that perhaps some jurisdictions are “cooking the numbers” in order to get more funding.
For instance, a police department’s figures may show more robberies committed because burglaries are reclassified as robberies. Or they may show an increase in burglaries, so reported burglaries are reported as larcenies. In addition, when reporting homicides to the FBI, these statistics do not include murders in which a body is never recovered.
The FBI is moving to implement an improved crime and arrest reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), to replace the summary UCR program. It is hoped that the study of deficiencies in UCR data will be of use in planning toward the full implementation of NIBRS.
Although the UCR has some limitations (indeed, the aim of this column is to address some of them), even these limitations provide important information. For example, incomplete citizen reporting to the police of certain types of crimes has been used as an indicator of a number of police-related factors: how the relationship between offender and victim affects citizen reporting of crime; the extent to which citizens trust the police; and the effect of police policies and problems on reporting behavior.
Yet the public is generally unaware that the UCR system is essentially a voluntary system; there is no federal legislation that requires States or local jurisdictions to report their crime data to the FBI.
The voluntary nature of the UCR, of course, affects the accuracy and completeness of the data. Although the FBI devotes a great deal of attention to the quality of the data it publishes in CIUS, it cannot mandate agencies to provide data on time (or at all).
As a consequence, the FBI must deal with problems of missing or late data, and has developed a mechanism to account for these gaps: it imputes (or estimates) data where gaps exist, which limits the accuracy of the crime statistics published in CIUS.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com. He’s also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He’s appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com. Kouri’s own website is located at http://jimkouri.us
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he's a columnist for The Examiner (examiner.com) and New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he's a blogger for the Cheyenne, Wyoming Fox News Radio affiliate KGAB (www.kgab.com). Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He's a news writer and columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, MensNewsDaily.Com, MichNews.Com, and he's syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. Kouri appears regularly as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Fox News Channel, Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, etc. To subscribe to Kouri's newsletter write to COPmagazine@aol.com and write "Subscription" on the subject line.