UCR vs. NIBRS
Statistics is the foundation for the criminal justice system as a field of research and scientific study. It allows for the expansion of information both in criminology and the criminal justice system itself. Crime is mostly a sociological response to various factors. Research tests these theories against several factors to provide us with a basis of knowledge and information that helps us understand the where, when, why, and how of crime including the system that is designed to control it. This research cannot be conducted without the statistics compiled, analyzed, and reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).
In order for research to be accurate, the data used must also be accurate. Guidelines and regulations have been put into place to ensure the quality and accuracy of the data released. In order to keep up with the ever changing varieties of crime in the US, the data has become more specific and evolved into even greater detailed data sets to more accurately pinpoint causes of crime and high risk areas.
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This paper will discuss the two main resources of crime related data, how they compare, and their contribution to criminal justice research and the study of criminology.
Introduction In 1929, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), developed a Committee to design a system for the collection of crime statistics. This Committee defined the criminal offenses known to policing and set up a database to determine the number of arrests and non-arrests for each incident, the seriousness of the offense, how often it occurred, where such incidents took place, and the likelihood of the crime being reported, and called this Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR).
Due to the differences in the way similar offenses were categorized in different states, the Committee standardized definitions for the seven crimes they determined would be reported on a national basis by which they instructed the agencies involved to report their data. Subsequently, a manual was published that specified the uniformed definitions for crimes which were categorized as Part I and Part II and the procedures required for submitting the statistics for these categories.
In 1930, Congress followed up with legislation authorizing the gathering of crime data which was ultimately spearheaded by the FBI who became the clearinghouse of crime statistics. This began the much needed statistically database system that allows crime trends to be analyzed, studied, and researched and important data regarding this information released to the general public. However, in order to continue accurate reporting, the UCR has made modifications, changes, and additions to it’s original format.
In 1952, data regarding race, sex, and age of offenders and the victims was add and made available by 1962. In 1978, Congress added arson to the categories of offenses studied which was added permanently to the UCR in 1982. In 1990, bias or racially motivated crimes were recorded along with the specific reason for the offender’s prejudice which included sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, and late, physical and mental disabilities. Further, in response to the rise in gang violence, these incidents were added to the data collection in 1993.
Lastly, in 2008 information regarding human trafficking and prostitution offenses were required to be reported. Despite all of these changes and additions in order to change with the trends of criminology and get a better picture of the crime affecting our country, there are many critics of the UCR and it’s reliability and validity. Although the primary objective was to provide reliable and accurate statistical data for law enforcement agencies to properly and effectively operate and manage their agencies, critics constantly point out the flaws of the UCR even though they use the data provided in their research.
Therefore, the FBI has come up with a new, arguably improved, and more detailed reporting system known as the National Incident-Base Reporting System (NIBRS) But the questions remain, is NIBRS really more reliable than UCR, does it provide a more accurate reporting system, and how does this affect criminal justice research? Literature Review Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) Statistical data provided by the agencies involved is reporting to the UCR is imparative for criminal justice research. These agencies voluntarily provide information based on the legislative reporting requirements and guidelines set forth for reporting of crime data.
The data received from the agencies is reviewed by FBI staff to ensure its compliance with the reporting guidelines and regulations and for accuracy and reliability. It is then entered into a national database which is subsequently distributed by the FBI in various media forms and publications. There are three units that are involved in the management of the UCR program and they are the Crime Statistics Management Unit(CSMU), the Criminal Justice Information Services Audit Unit, and the Multimedia Productions Group. Specific data collections can be requested in order to receive a specific set of data specific to your research design. To ensure quality in the data provided there are several procedures followed by the FBI. The CSMU staff is responsible for the initial review of the data that is received to ensure that it complies with the UCR policy, definitions, principles, and consistency of methodology established for statistical analysis and data collection. If there are errors in the information, the submitting agencies are contacted for clarifications or changes.
Once these initial processes are complete, this unit then looks for logical consistency, reasonableness, sound estimation methodologies, monetary submission standards for property crimes, and other editing functions. The next step is the Criminal Justice Information Services Audit Unit who uses Quality Assurance Reviews (QARs) every three years to ensure the state agency is following proper UCR guidelines. The purpose of QARs is to: “Ensure that agencies’ data are compatible with UCR standards.
Identify strengths and weaknesses in an agency’s reporting methods, thereby helping the agency to improve the accuracy of its crime data. Assess the validity of an agency’s crime statistics. Assist agencies through feedback and identification of UCR records management needs. ” (FBI, 2014) This 5 step process concludes the accuracy and reliability testing. In order to provide uniformity in reporting, the FBI trains the various reporting agencies in the data collection process, definitions, and how to report this information once compiled.
There is a specialized support team that can be consulted should any questionable situation arise. This goes a long way in ensuring that the data reported is done so in the same manner across the board in an effort to provide the most reliable of statistics. When the information is released to the public,all documentation regarding how the data was collected, the methodology used, variables considered, and the tables and charts used to come up with the results of each study can be requested and is supplied to provide transparency.
However, this rigorous review process is not without fault. The use of the “Hierarchy Rule” in which only the highest scoring crime was reported in a multiple offense situation left many crimes essentially unreported. Further, researchers have consistently criticized the UCR for its inability to provide valid information that can be used as a reliable indicator of criminal trends and behaviors. The major issues were: 1. “The procedures and definitions are not consistent across agencies. 2.
Many crimes are not included because citizens do not report them to the police and the likelihood of citizen reporting varies in systematic ways. 3. The police are selective in reporting crime and this filtering process is biased (not constant across social groups or areas). 4. Some agencies do not report or report incompletely, and missing data are poorly documented. 5. The major data collections do not provide information on the characteristics of offenders (such as age, race, and gender), and these must be inferred from arrest data. 6.
The UCR is not a statistical program in the usual sense of the term. Rather, it is a “house organ” of the police (Lejins 1966, 1016) and reflects the organizational interests of agencies that may use the data to further those interests. ” (Loftin and McDowall, 2010) With these discrepancies in mind, while UCR data is in no way the most perfect of sources, it was the only source of criminal justice trends and behavior for quite some time. Researchers were consistent in their use of the data provided, while maintaining claims that the information may be skewed.
Yet, the value of UCR data could be determined by coming it to surveys of victimization and offending, incident of crime surveys, and self-reporting studies. Time provided more insight into the value of UCR data, specifically when the raw data was made available and there was less possibility for researchers to manipulate the findings. This paved the way for more detailed studies on data quality issues. (Loftin and McDowall, 2010) In response, it was determined that a more detailed data system needed to be put in place to make up for the shortcomings of the UCR Summary System.
This lead to the development of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) in March 1988. National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) The goal of NIBRS is to “enhance the quantity, quality, and timeliness of crime data collection… and to improve the methodology used in compiling, analyzing, auditing, and publishing the collected crime statistics”. (Rantala and Edwards, 2000) Rather than follow a more summary based system of data collection, NIBRS is designed to suit the needs of the agency using it.
While the collection of data and method of reporting remains the same, NIBRS compiles information from each single crime incident. This provides for a more accurate of a picture of criminal behavior, specifically when more than one crime occurs at a single incident. NIBRS requires extensive data collection of 46 Group A crimes and arrest data on an additional 11 Group B crimes. [Table 1] (Rantala and Edwards, 2000) This is far more specific and detail oriented that the UCR summary system.
Benefits include the provision of information for all major current crime trends; all involved in criminal justice studies, research, and policy making have a more extensive crime data to consider; the extent and accuracy of the crime information provided by the new system better equips law enforcement agencies with the ability to request necessary resources to fight crime trends in their area; it allows agencies to find locate crime comparisons so that agencies can work together in a problem solving capacity; and, full agency participation gives a complete status of public safety in any given jurisdiction.
Further, in response to the country’s war on crime, NIBRS added the Crimes Against Society category to include reports on drug offenses and terrorist activity. Lastly, crimes using computers, homicides, and 3 separate assault categories were added to the list of required information to be reported. NIBRS data systems have paved the way for new research topics to be explored, more specifically due to the difference in how crimes are classified than in UCR data. [Table 2] In-depth methodological research can be conducted which will make a large impact on the understanding of crime, criminal behavior, and crime trends in our country.
NIBRS is well on its way to accomplishing its initial goals of providing a more detailed and accurate reporting system that will change the face of crime as we saw in the past. To date, because of NIBRS, new information regarding assaults, gender crime differences, and race comparisons have painted a new picture for criminal justice professionals. Conclusion Comparing the UCR summary reports and NIBRS consists of considering their “artifactual differences, non-uniform reporting practices, and reporting errors”. (Rantala and Edwards, 2000) NIBRS expands the hotel rule and restructures specific crime definitions. The UCR utilizes the hierarchy rule. While they both count the number of incidents that occur, NIBRS includes all categories of crime involved. The UCR system is more susceptable to reporting errors whereas NIBRS is likely to experience programming errors. The bottom line is that the vast differences in both systems have caused a significant and dramatic change in the data provided for crime research and the field of criminology.
However, NIBRS was also able to show that the UCR system did have its merits. The information provided by the NIBRS system when compared with UCR data only showed an average statistical change of -. 05 to 1. 5. (Rantala and Edwards, 2000) This further strengthened the validity of the UCR summary system despite the initial criticism. NIBRS has successfully enhanced criminal justice research and will continue to allow for continued advancements in the area of criminology.