UCR and Clearances

The most important information provided by the UCR Program concerns crime rates and arrest rates. A UCR crime rate is like a percentage; it compares the number of crimes to the size of the population. The UCR Program’s crime rates reveal the number of crimes for every 100,000 people in the population. The size of the population depends on the geographical area being examined. For example, if the city of Gotham has 500,000 people and if 5000 burglaries occurred in this city in a particular year, then the crime rate is determined by this formula: the number of crimes (burglaries, 5000) divided by the population (500,000). That comes out to 0.01. This result is multiplied by 100,000, which in this example results in 1000. This means that 5000 burglaries in Gotham with a population of 500,000 is equivalent to 1000 burglaries for every 100,000 persons. Consequently, Gotham has a burglary rate of 1000 per 100,000 persons.

The use of crime rates is important because they allow us to determine whether one city or area has a greater crime problem than another city or area. For instance, in our example in the preceding paragraph, Gotham has a burglary rate of 1000 per 100,000 persons. However, the city of Metropolis, a larger city in the same state, has a burglary rate of 850 per 100,000 persons. Thus, we could say that when it comes to burglaries, Metropolis is a safer city than Gotham.

UCR and Arrest Rates

UCR data are based on police reports. For this reason, the FBI calls the offenses on which it provides data “crimes known to the police.”The crimes known to the police, then, become the “official” number of crimes that the police report to the UCR Program, and that the UCR Program, in turn, reports to the public. How do police departments find out about crimes— the crimes known to the police? These data are based on citizen complaints of crime. For each crime reported, the police tell the FBI whether someone was arrested for that crime or whether the crime was cleared for some other reason—for instance, the death of the main suspect.

For each arrest that occurs, the police report to the FBI the arrestees age, gender, and race. When someone is arrested for a crime, that crime is counted as being “cleared by arrest.” Overall, statistics suggest that the police clear about 20% of all index crimes, although the clearance rate varies by the type of crime (Barkan and Bryjak, 2004). However, the annual Uniform Crime Reports do provide information about the number of crimes in each category cleared by arrest.

Drawbacks of the UCR Program

The UCR Program provides the official statistics about crime in the United States, and those statistics are provided by more than 18,000 police agencies. Thus, the Uniform Crime Reports are the best official compilation of crime in this country. On the other hand, while they are a great resource for researchers, government officials on all levels, and citizens, they fail to provide a completely accurate picture of crime in the United States for the following reasons:

  • • The UCR Program only counts crime reported to the police; consequently, crime is most certainly underreported.
  • • The UCR Program counts and classifies crime and some characteristics of arrestees; still, it does not provide complete details about offenses.
  • • The UCR Program relies on the statistics given the FBI by local and state police departments. This suggests that for various reasons (e.g., manpower shortages and political considerations), crime in a particular location might be misrepresented either intentionally or unintentionally.

• The UCK Program counts only specific violent and property crimes and does not focus on corporate, occupational, or computer crimes.

Results from the UCR Program

What, then, do we know about crime and crime trends from the UCK Program?

The latest statistics from the UCR Program (FBI, 2020) show that:

  • 1 In 2019, 1,203,808 violent crimes occurred nationwide, a decrease of 0.5% from the 2018 total
  • 2 When considering 5-year and 10-year trends, the 2019 number of violent crimes was 0.4% higher than the 2015 number but 3.8% below the 2010 level
  • 3 There were an estimated 366.7 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019, a rate that declined 0.9% when compared with the 2018 estimated rate, and a decrease of 9.3% as compared to 2010
  • 4 Aggravated assaults accounted for 68.2% of violent crimes reported to law enforcement in 2019. Robbery offenses accounted for 22.3% of violent crime offenses, rape accounted for 8.2%, and murder accounted for 1.4%
  • 5 Information collected regarding types of weapons used in violent crime showed that firearms were used in 73.7% of the nations murders, 36.4% of robberies, and 27.6% of aggravated assaults

Furthermore, looking back on the 20-year trends in the UCR statistics, since 1998, both violent crime and property crime have declined in 15 of the past 20 years; the number of arrests were 10,310,960 in 2018—a significant decline from the 14,663,000 arrests in 1994. The number of murders in 2018 was 16,214, whereas in 1994 the number of homicides was 23,326 (FBI, 2019).

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