The Nation's Two Crime Measures
This two-page Department of Justice statement describes the purposes and advantages of the Uniform Crime Reports of the FBI and the National Crime Victimization Survey of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. After summarizing the collection methods that the two statistical programs use and highlighting the aspects of crime that each measures, the statement concludes with similarities and differences.
1. Uniform Crime Reports
The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) provide official crime counts for the United States since 1930. It is a program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The UCR Program is a voluntary city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement program that provides a nationwide view of crime based on the submission of statistics by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Data is collected on known offenses and persons arrested.
2. National Crime Victimization Survey
The National Crime Victimization Survey is the Nation's primary source of information on criminal victimization. Each year, data are obtained from a nationally representative sample of 76,000 households comprising nearly 135,300 persons on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States. It is a program of the Bureua of Justice Statisticsand began in 1973.
"The statistics of crime are known as the most unreliable and difficult of all statistics. First, the laws which define crimes change. Second, the number of crimes actually committed cannot possibly be enumerated. This is true of many of the major crimes and even more true of the minor crimes. Third, any record of crimes, such as arrests, convictions, or commitments to prison, can be sued as an index of crimes committed only on the assumption that this index maintains a constant ratio of crimes committed. The assumption is a large one, for the recorded crimes are affected by police policies, court policies, and public opinion."
(Source: Sutherland, E. (1947). Principles of criminology (4th ed.). Chicago: J.P. Lippincott. As cited in Mosher, J.C., Miethe. T.D., & Phillips, D. M. (2002). The mismeasure of crime. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.)
Like most other social statistics, statistics on crime must be critically assessed for reliability and validity. Measurement of crime is prone to error due to differences in reporting systems, the likelihood that a crime will go unreported (i.e. the "dark figure"), inherent issues with self-reporting, etc. Take the time to understand the methodology of the study or report you are citing to protect against false assumptions or conclusions.
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