Each of these has advantages and disadvantages. Detail follows.
The four sources of crime data Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) (Ask the police) NIBRS - Incident-Based Reporting -- Future FBI reporting Offender-Based Transaction Statistics (OBTS) (Ask the courts) National Criminal Victimization Survey (NCVS) (Ask the victim) Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) (Ask the offender)
Uniform Crime Report
Prepared by the FBI at the national level and by many state crime commissions (including Ohio's) so as to be compatible with the FBI.
Compiling the UCR
Part I Offenses: Eight severe crimes that form the crime rate. Hierarchical order of the list is important; most severe crimes are listed before those deemed less severe.
Unlawful Murder. The unlawful killing with malice aforethought.
Manslaughter. The unlawful killing without malice aforethought.
Death by Negligence. Death due to negligence of a person other than the victim; occurs at a time other than during the commission of an unlawful act.
If death occurs during or because of an unlawful act , murder charges will be brought if that act was a felony and manslaughter charges will be brought if that act was a misdemeanor.
Rape/sexual Assault (Excludes Rape-murders)
Rape by force. The "carnal knowledge" of a female by force against her will. Excludes statutory rape and other sex offenses.
Assault to rape. Assaults and attempts to rape.
the forcible taking of property from another against that person's will. Robbery is larceny plus assault ! (Category excludes robberies in which a rape or a homicide is present.)
Armed robbery. Any object is employed to force compliance or threaten it.
Strong Arm robbery. No weapon is used, but physical means of violence are present. Includes muggings, etc.
the attempt or threat to do physical injury to another with unlawful force. At the felony level, victim must suffer – or be in danger of suffering – great bodily harm.
(Excludes assaults with intent to rape, rob, or kill.)
Gun or other firearm
Knife or other cutting instrument
Other dangerous weapon
Hands, fists, etc.
The unlawful entry or attempted forcible entry of any structure to commit a felony or larceny. (Excludes any burglary in which a crime against person is also involved.)
Forcible entry. Includes the use of a master key or concealment inside followed by breaking out (i.e., forcible exit).
Unlawful entry (without force)
Attempted forcible entry
The unlawful taking of another's property with the intent to deprive him or her of ownership.
(Excludes any larceny involving a crime against person. Also excludes larcenies involving a burglary. Also excludes larcenies of motor vehicles.)
NOTE: "Larceny" and "theft" are synonyms!
Motor Vehicle Theft
Motor Vehicle Theft - larceny or attempted larceny of an automobile.
Illegal destruction of property via fire
Regardless of ownership
UCR on the Web
County level UCR Data
Criminal Justice Information Center
Anytime the phrase "crime rate" is used in official publications or in newspaper reports, it refers only to the aggregate of the above UCR Part I Index offenses.
Problems with UCR
Victim may not report the offense to police for fear of reprisals from the assailant.
Assailant may be a friend or relative of the victim; the victim may decide not to cause trouble.
Victim may define the crime as trivial and not worth the time or effort to report it.
Problems with UCR 2
Victim may not want the publicity that could go along with reporting the offense.
Victim may define the police as ineffective and thus reporting the offense would do no good.
Problems with police professionalism
Reform orientation of a police department affects the crime rate; the fewer crimes you ignore, the higher the crime rate.
Side issues may affect the crime rate; the more crimes you ignore, the lower the crime rate.
A Georgia police officer: "It burns me up that New York City doesn't report larcenies to the FBI unless they involve $3000 or more; they think complete recording would lower tourism and affect their economy. Meanwhile, we report every theft of $1.35 from a gas station."
The Dialectics of Increasing Police
Increased professionalism and resources in police leads to an increase simply because more crimes are seen
May be politically biased; in order to get a budget increase, police may be operating under arrest quotas in order to ensure that the crime rate goes up.
Problems with the UCR structure
Hierarchy rule: if more than one offense is committed in a particular incident, only the most serious offense is recorded in the UCR. For example, assault/rape/murder is recorded only as a murder for UCR purposes. The less severe offenses are ignored.
Participation by local police and sheriff's offices is totally voluntary. Data are thus not complete. Data may thus also be biased.
Many important crimes, and their impact on people are totally ignored by the UCR Part I index.
Part II offenses include the following:
Forgery and counterfeiting
Fraud , Embezzlement
Stolen property: buying, receiving, possessing
Vandalism, Vagrancy, Disorderly conduct
Weapons: carrying, possessing
Prostitution and commercialized vice
Sex offenses (other than forcible rape and prostitution)
Narcotic drug laws
Gambling, Liquor laws, Drunkenness
None of these offenses in Part II is counted as part of the "crime rate".
"Other" is the largest single category on this list (see Table 2.2, p. 55). If the largest category is "other", you haven't defined your categories very well. You don't really know what's in your very largest category.
National Incident Based Reporting System
Will shift to incident-based reporting; for each incident will collect detail on when it occurred, the kind of weapon used (if any), the type and value of property stolen or damaged, the age, sex, and race of both victim and offender, the relationship between the offender and the victim (if any), whether an arrest was made, etc.
No more "hierarchy rule"
If more than one crime was committed in a single incident, all will be reported under the enhanced UCR.
If an incident includes a kidnapping, rape, and murder, only the most serious (murder) would be reported on the current UCR
NIBRS will list all three offenses in the incident.
Offender-Based Transaction Statistics (OBTS) (Ask the courts)
Tries to answer the question: "When people get arrested, what happens to them?" Studies the justice system as a flowing process rather than as a static snapshot.
OBTS on the Web
National Archives of Criminal Justice Data
Contains one record per offender . (UCR, at least in its current form, contains one record per charged offense.)
In theory, gives us the ability to "track" a given offender through the system in multiple encounters. Each offender has an ID.
It's encrypted, and the data are therefore confidential--but it should be unique to each offender across offenses.
Back-end statistical reporting
Record is generated for an individual when his/her case is disposed and sentenced .
This record contains historical info arrest, trial, and sentence. (UCR, in contrast, is front-end.
Contains only arrest-centered data because the record is generated at the beginning of the process.)
OBTS vs. UCR
OBTS shows fewer felonies than does the UCR. OBTS is likely to be the more accurate.
Police fill out the UCR – if they think something looks like a felony, they record it as one.
OBTS is filled out be prosecutors — Who know what a felony is and whether they think a conviction is likely if any particular offense is charged as a felony.
Coming to be seen as a major analysis tool of the future. Allen Barnes, Statistical Analysis Center, Anchorage: "They even do it in Ohio, of all places."
Problems with OBTS
Includes only felony dispositions. No infractions or misdemeanors.
Based on internal state law in each state. Since state law is not uniform, different states will treat a particular offense differently.
May be a felony in one state and a misdemeanor (or not illegal) in another.
Voluntary as to participation. Only 18 states currently have OBTS systems. And not all of those report within the national guidelines.
(California's OBTS system preceded the national guidelines, so CA uses its own for internal consistency.)
Voluntary as to treatment of data. Many missing data fields.
ID encrypting is performed differently in different states, so it's not possible to track offenders across state systems.
(Pennsylvania encrypts ID's differently for each incident , so you can't even track them within PA. Which shoots down one of the major goals of the system.)
ID encrypting is not perfect
It's based on the name given to the court. "John Smith" and " John A. Smith" would be encrypted differently even if they're the same person at two different encounters.
On the other hand, "John Smith" would be encrypted the same even if they were two different people.
Record includes information from arrest to disposition but does not include appeal info. If sentence is later reduced or overturned, OBTS will not show the change.
National Criminal Victimization Survey (NCVS) (Ask the victim)
Until 12/91 known as the "National Crime Survey" (NCS)
Sample survey. We don't know who all the victims are, but if we take a large enough random sample of all people in the population, we'll end up with a sample of victims.
NCVS on the Web
US Department of Justice, crime and victim statistics
National Crime Victimization Survey Guide
Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics
National survey is conducted through ISR at the University of Michigan. Includes broad national sample plus intensive samples of largest major metropolitan areas. (For methodology students, this makes it a stratified random sample.)
Any individual respondent is included for seven consecutive six-month waves. (For CJ251 students, this makes it a perpetual panel.)
Questions are phrased so as to describe offenses in common language rather than legal language.
Sample NCVS Question
READ TO RESPONDENT: "Now I am going to ask you about any
crimes that may have been inflicted on you in the last 12 months."
During the last 12 months, did anyone break into your home or
apartment and steal something?
A. Was the crime reported to the police?
B. Why was the crime not reported to the police?
C. Were you satisfied or not satisfied with the manner in which the complaint was handled after it was reported to the police?
D. Where did the burglar enter your home or apartment?
E. What time of day did the burglary occur?
F. What, if anything, was stolen?
G. Was the stolen property recovered?
H. If all or part of your stolen property was recovered, who recovered it
Problems with victimization data
Victim may not choose to be a respondent for the survey at all.
Bias comes in here because refusal rates in sample surveys are especially high in low-income, high-crime areas of a city.
Also if you are a victim, you may be less inclined to answer the question than if you are not . This leads to under estimation of victimization.
NCVS Problems 2
Victim may not report the incident to the interviewer because the assailant was a friend or relative or because it was considered unimportant
The victim forgot about it when asked during the survey.
Victim may report crimes that actually took place more than a year before the interview. This will lead to over estimation of victimization.
Drug Use Forecasting (DUF) (Ask the offender)
DUF data are collected in booking facilities in selected cities throughout the United States.
Program began in the borough of Manhattan in 1987.
Objective way of asking the offender about recent drug use.
How DUF works
During each quarter of the year data are collected for approximately 14 consecutive evenings.
Trained local staff obtain voluntary anonymous interviews and urine specimens with newly booked arrestees.
Specimens are sent to a central testing site to standardize results (except Phoenix and Portland, which test locally).
Response rates are consistently high, with over 90% of arrestees approached agreeing to be interviewed. Approximately 80% of those interviewed provide a urine specimen (i.e., approximately 72% of those approached).
National Youth Study (NYS) (Ask the offender)
Self-report study. Instead of objective data, we're going to ask folks what they've done--whether or not the police have heard about it.
Main NYS runs through IBS at University of Colorado; other smaller samples may be taken elsewhere for other purposes (Boys Town Follow up, for example--unconnected to NYS, but used NYS methodology and some of their questions)
NYS on the Web
National Archive of Criminal Justice Data
National Youth Gang Survey
NYS itself is a panel study; same questions asked of same respondents at repeated points in time, generally two-year intervals
Survey, either sample or purposeful
Disadvantages of self-report studies:
Usual disadvantages of surveys are relevant
In addition, respondent is being asked to admit to things that are illegal; may not want to admit them.
Truthfulness is a critical issue. Respondents may choose to lie about things they did in violation of the law.
Confidentiality of the data is critical
Since respondents may well admit to offenses in the survey that they haven't actually been arrested
Should not even dream of doing this kind of study without being granted a confidentiality certificate by the federal government provides you as a researcher with protection in case you are asked by police to reveal your data in court.
Ethics says you can't reveal your data; certificate, if it has been granted, says you probably won't go to jail for standing on your ethical position. You hope.