How Is Crime Measured?

How much crime is there in America?

That’s an interesting—and tricky—question. Crime statistics must be treated with great caution and not a little bit of skepticism. In order

Pattern map associated with a highway shooting investigation

Figure 2.1 Pattern map associated with a highway shooting investigation.

to be both cautious and skeptical, you must ask two questions about crime statistics:

  • 1. Are crime measurements measuring what they purport to be measuring?
  • 2. Does the source of crime statistics have something to gain from the way crime measurements are presented to the public?

By asking these two important questions, you will be less likely to simply accept the crime statistics you are reviewing at face value. But where does information about crime come from?

Reporting on the Amount of Crime

Information about crime comes from agencies, private groups, and scholars. But the four most frequently used data sources for estimating crime come from

  • • Uniform Crime Reports
  • • National Crime Victimization Survey
  • • National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)
  • • Self-report studies

Each has advantages and disadvantages, and each can be biased or slanted. But if you put them all together, you are likely to get a fair idea of the amount of crime that takes place in America.

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