National Incident-Based Reporting System

In 1985, a joint task force of the BJS and the FBI was created to study and recommend ways to improve the quality of information contained in the UCR Program (UCR StudyTask Force, 1985).This resulted in the NIBRS, and the first collection of data began in 1991. Under NIBRS, participating law enforcement authorities provide offense and arrest data on 22 broad categories of crime covering 46 offenses, while providing only arrest information on 11 other offenses (Bohm and Haley, 2012).

The advantage of the NIBRS compared with the UCR Program is that the NIBRS provides more data on each crime, making it possible to examine crimes in much more detail. It has long been hoped by the FBI that eventually the NIBRS will replace the UCR Program as the source of official FBI crime information. However, not all police departments have had the resources necessary to collect, process, and report the wide array of data. As of 2009, only 44% of the nations law enforcement agencies were participating in the NIBRS (Masters et al., 2013). According to the FBI, as of 2007, 6444 law enforcement agencies contributed NIBRS data to the UCR Program. This represents just 25% of the U.S. population and 25% of the crime statistics collected by the FBI. Thus, it has been impractical to make generalizations about crime nationwide (FBI, 2012). However, the FBI now reports the promised commitment of thousands of additional police departments and it was announced in 2019 that the FBI will transition to NIBRS-only data by January 1,2021 (NIBRS, 2019).

Beyond the UCR Program

The BJS is spearheading the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X), a program designed to generate nationally representative incident-based data on crimes reported to law enforcement agencies (BJS, 2015). The NCS-X will leverage the FBI’s existing NIBRS by recruiting a sample of 400 law enforcement agencies to supplement the existing NIBRS data by providing their incident data to their state (or the federal) NIBRS data collection program. When data from these 400 agencies are combined with data from the more than 6000 agencies that currently report NIBRS data to the FBI, NIBRS will be able to produce national estimates of crime that can be disaggregated (separated into its component parts) by victim and offender characteristics, the circumstances of the event, the victimoffender relationship, and other important elements of criminal events. When completed, nationally representative NIBRS data will, it is hoped, increase the United States’ ability to monitor, respond to, and prevent crime by allowing NIBRS to produce timely, detailed, and accurate national measures of crime incidents.

The NCS-X is a collaborative undertaking supported by the FBI and other Department of Justice agencies. The BJS also needs the support of the law enforcement community to ensure its success.The NCS-X will be designed to implement efficient and minimally burdensome processes to collect and extract incident-based data from existing records management systems. The NCS-X will be providing technical assistance and funding to the sampled 400 law enforcement agencies and to state UCR and NIBRS programs to enable them to report these additional data to the FBI (BJS, 2015). To encourage participation in the program, the FBI and the BJS may offer benefits, which may include increased operational and analytic capabilities or resources, training, technical support, and other customized incentives.

A team of partner organizations—including RTI International, the IACP, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute, and the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics (SEARCH)—is responsible for developing the implementation plans for NCS-X.This includes coordinating efforts with local law enforcement, state reporting programs, and the software industry. An NCS-X executive steering committee will review possible design and implementation options to ensure the maximum benefit to both participants and key stakeholders (BJS, 2015).

National Crime Victimization Survey

In addition to the Uniform Crime Reports, a second major source of data about crime is the NCVS. Once called the National Crime Survey, the NCVS has been conducted annually since 1972 by the Bureau of the Census for the U.S. Department of Justices BJS.

Although it underwent a redesign in 1992, the basic design of the survey has remained constant through its almost five decades of existence. Essentially, the NCVS is a self-report survey in which interviewed persons are asked about the number and characteristics of victimizations experienced during the prior six months. Survey respondents provide information about themselves (e.g., age, sex, race and Hispanic origin, marital status, education level, and income) and whether they experienced a victimization. Information is collected for each victimization incident, about the offender (e.g., age, race and Hispanic origin, sex, and victim—offender relationship), characteristics of the crime (including time and place of occurrence, use of weapons, nature of injury, and economic consequences), whether the crime was reported to police, reasons the crime was or was not reported, and experiences with the criminal justice system.

The NCVS is administered to persons aged 12 or older from a nationally representative sample of households in the United States.The NCVS defines a household as a group of members who all reside at a sampled address. Persons are considered household members when the sampled address is their usual place of residence at the time of the interview and when they have no other usual place of residence. Once selected, households remain in the sample for three years, and eligible persons in these households are interviewed every six months either in person or over the phone, for a total of seven interviews.

Generally, all first interviews are conducted in person. New households rotate into the sample on an ongoing basis to replace outgoing households that have been in the sample for the three-year period.The sample includes persons living in group quarters, such as dormitories, rooming houses, and religious group dwellings, and excludes persons living in military barracks and institutional settings, such as correctional or hospital facilities, and the homeless.

To gather data for the annual report entitled Crime Victimization in the United States, the Bureau of the Census conducts interviews with a national sample of approximately 165,000 people in 95,000 households. The major focus in the set of questions asked of adults (i.e., individuals over 12 years of age) is whether they have been victims of crime within the past six months. When it has been determined that an individual in the survey has been victimized, further questions are asked about the victimization.

Although the UCR Program is primarily oriented toward criminals and their crimes, the NCVS focuses mainly on the victims and their victimization.The NCVS includes both reported and unreported crimes. By concentrating on victims and learning more about unreported crimes, the NCVS complements the UCK Program by giving a more complete picture of the extent of crime in the United States.

In the survey, household residents are asked whether they have been a victim in the previous six months of several different kinds of personal crimes. These crimes include robbery, rape, sexual assault, aggravated and simple assault, and personal theft, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching; the NCVS groups these offenses together and calls them “personal crimes” (Barkan and Bryjak, 2004). One household member is also asked whether the family has been victim to a household burglary, other household theft, or motor vehicle theft; the NCVS calls these “property crimes.”

If respondents have experienced personal crimes, they are then asked several questions about the offense, including whether and how they were threatened or hurt; the time and place of victimization; whether a weapon was involved and, if so, what type of weapon; how well they knew the offender before the victimization; and whether they reported the offense to the police and, if not, why not. When respondents report a household victimization, they are asked further questions about it, including the value of the item(s) stolen and whether someone was at home at the time the theft occurred.

Since the NCVS is a random sample of the entire nation, its results can be generalized to the rest of the U.S. population. So, for example, if 1% of the sample reports that their automobile was stolen, we can be fairly sure that about 1% of all U.S. families have experienced a motor vehicle theft. This is important because it allows us to estimate the actual number of victimizations in the United States. It also allows us to estimate the rate of victimization per 1000 individuals aged 12 and older for personal crimes, and per 1000 households for property crimes. For instance, if 1% of households report a stolen car, then we can say that the rate of car thefts is ten per 1000 households.

Strengths and Drawbacks of the NCVS

The major strength of the NCVS is that it provides a more accurate estimate of the actual number of crimes that take place in the United States than does the UCR Program. In addition, the NCVS lets us know about crimes that go unreported to the police, and also, it is a rich source of information about criminal victimization.

However, there are flaws in the NCVS—just as there are in the UCK Program and all other forms of crime data collection. For instance, it does not include commercial crime and white-collar crime. Furthermore, it does not cover crimes whose victims are under 12 years of age. There could also be inaccuracy if respondents have forgotten about a victimization, or they choose to avoid telling the interviewer about a victimization because of embarrassment in talking about a crime or fear of getting into trouble, or simply because they choose to remain silent about an incident.

Finally, there could be sampling errors, or the question format may not produce valid answers for some people, especially adolescents.

Results of the NCVS

In general, the annual results of the NCVS show that there are many more crimes committed than are reported to the police, and subsequently to the FBI, for the UCK Program. It is found by comparing the UCK Program and the NCVS that fewer than half of violent crimes are reported to the police, fewer than one-third of personal theft crimes are reported to law enforcement, and fewer than half of household thefts are reported to the police (Truman, 2010).

Other findings from the 2018 NCVS show that:

  • • The rate of violent crime rose from 18.6 per 1000 persons in 2017 to 23.2 per 1000 in 2018;however,both show significant decrease from 26.1 victimizations per 1000 persons in 2012 (Morgan and Oudekerk, 2019).
  • • No statistically significant change was detected in the rate of serious violent crime (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) from 2017 to 2018.
  • • From 2017 to 2018, there was only a slight increase in the rates of domestic violence (4.5 per 1000 persons in 2017 to 4.8 per 1000 in 2018) (Morgan and Oudekerk, 2019).
  • • The percentage of households that experienced property crime decreased from 7.9% in 2014 to 7.27% in 2018.
  • • In 2017, 0.98% of all persons aged 12 or older experienced at least one violent victimization, while in 2018 about 1.18% (somewhat more than 3 million persons) experienced at least one serious violent victimization (Morgan and Oudekerk, 2019).
  • • There were an estimated 16,822,000 violent victimizations in 1993; in 2018, there were an estimated 6,385,520 violent victimizations.
  • • In 1993, there were an estimated 1,922,000 auto thefts in the United States; in 2018, there were an estimated 534,000 car thefts (Morgan and Oudekerk, 2019).

One other set of statistics of note from the NCVS has to do with the number of crimes that were unreported to the police. Of the violent victimizations that were estimated by the BJS based on the NCVS in 1993 (more than 16,500,000), it was found that 7,138,000 were reported to the police, but 9,499,000 were not. That means that about 56% (more than half) of violent crimes were not reported to law enforcement in 1993. Comparing that with 2018, it was found that there were 6.3 million violent victimizations in 2018. Of that number, 2.7 million were reported, but 3.6 million (or about 57%) were not reported.

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