Compare And Contrast The Two Primary Crime Data Sources Used In The United States Essay

Length: 12 pages Sources: 7 Subject: Criminal Justice Type: Essay Paper: #49906355 Related Topics: Comparison, Data Collection, Comparative Analysis, Contrast
Excerpt from Essay :

Crime Data Sources in the United States

The collection of crime data in the United States is carried out through different approaches including Uniform Crime Reports and the National Incident-Based Reporting System, which also act as the two primary sources of crime data for crime reporting. The data obtained from these sources are used for research and documentation of crime status at the county, state, and national levels. Notably, the National Incident-Based Reporting System emerged as an advancement of the conventional summary of Uniform Crime Reports that were used to track crime in the country. In addition, the Congress uses data from these sources together with those from the National Crime Victimization Survey to guide policy decisions and create suitable responses to crime. While the use of these sources helps in dealing with crime in the United States, they have some similarities and differences between them with regards to methodological processes and implications.

Uniform Crime Reports (UCR):

Uniform Crime Reports were introduced in the late 1920s as the initial national, standardized measure of crime incidence (James & Council, 2008). This approach was initially regarded as a means of measuring the effectiveness of local law enforcement to offer enforcement through data that could help in fighting crime. Since its introduction UCR developed to an extent that it was widely used by academics and governmental officials for various purposes like policy, planning, and research. In addition to increased use, Uniform Crime Reports are the most commonly cited crime statistics across the country. However, in the recent past, there have been numerous efforts to assess UCR data quality through comprehensive methods developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These efforts have been accompanied by initiatives to transition from these reports to NIBRS.

Lynch & Jarvis (2008), state that UCR program is largely an administrative range of police records (p.71). As a result, this program incorporates seven unique data collections, which are based on police records in local and state police agencies that are provided directly or via state programs to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These distinct data collections in UCR are characterized by aggregate reporting at the jurisdiction level. This helps each police agency report to be incorporated into eligible incidents to the state and eventually to the FBI program. While involvement in the UCR program is mainly voluntary, nearly 38 states have enacted laws that require the local police agencies to provide mandatory reports that are sent to the state or UCR program. However, the quality of involvement and participation in these programs is voluntary and does not necessarily contribute to any sanctions in case of failure to provide the reports based on the mandatory reporting laws. In essence, the UCR program is not dependent on a sample since it tries to gather crime data from state and local police departments.

As the first source of crime data in the United States, the Uniform Crime Reports system helped in enhancing the existing system of collecting and publishing official crime statistics and response to criminal offenses. Before the introduction of this system, data collection by local law enforcement departments was invalid and characterized by limited reliability. While the UCR system enhanced reliability of collecting and publishing crime data, it sacrificed validity. Some of the major components it improved include data-collection forms, standardized descriptions, and data-collection measures (Skogan, 1975, p.19).

National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS):

The introduction of the National Incident-Based Reporting System was fueled by the realization that data collected and transmitted through Uniform Crime Reports remained significantly unchanged since these reports were established in 1929. As a result, there was consensus on the need to update UCR to offer more comprehensive data to meet the demands of law enforcement in the modern society. The Federal Bureau of Investigations then contracted for a phased review of UCR program through the Bureau of Justice Statistics. These efforts culminated in the development of National Incident-Based Reporting System that was based on recommendations on how to improve UCR.

Based on these recommendations, NIBRS was developed as a system that enables law enforcement agencies to use an incident-based method for reporting crime and arrests (James & Council, 2008). Secondly, this system was established to include or implement a quality assurance program since it is a national UCR program. Finally, the system enables some law enforcement agencies to provide incident-based data for all notable


Some of the major similarities between the two crime data sources include & #8230;

Differentiation of Crime:

Similar to Uniform Crime Reports, the National Incident-Based Reporting System differentiates crime against persons and crimes against property. UCR reporting and NIBRS reporting classify or distinguish crimes against persons and crimes against property in the same way i.e. through a score. The process of distinguishing between these types of crimes is carried out when law enforcement agencies are separating time and place rule. The separation is geared towards determining whether a group of misdemeanors should be reported as individual incidents or they should be reported as one incident involving multiple crimes. The law enforcement agencies providing these reports also score one crime for every offense against community in an incident. The similarity in separation of crimes between the two systems is fueled by the application and relevance of separation of time and place rule when categorizing and scoring crimes under UCR and NIBRS programs.

Use of Crime Data:

The second similarity between the two systems is attributed to the use of crime data or statistics in these reports. Since they are the two primary sources of crime data in the United States, data from UCR and NIBRS is used by the Congress for various law enforcement purposes. Some of the most common ways the Congress uses statistics or data from these reports include informing policy decisions and creating suitable responses to criminal activities or offenses. The Congress also uses crime statistics or data from UCR and NIBRS programs when expressing the need for more community policing officers and creating formula distributions for some grant programs.

Actually, data collected from the two sources is used for research and documentation of crime status at county, state, and national levels of government (Haas et. al., 2012). The use of UCR and NIBRS crime data or statistics has contributed to the development and enhancement of policy in various means. For instance, these reports were used in creation of the Community Oriented Policing Services to enable law enforcement officers to get involved in community policing through offering grants for hiring, re-hiring, and redeploying.

Data Issues:

According to Haas et al. (2012), crime reporting through UCR and NIBRS is voluntary and vulnerable to issues of data quality, probable non-compliance, and missing data. These crime data or statistics issues are brought by the ever-expanding complexity of criminal activities. They emerge because of reliable information and results can only be obtained through accuracy and completeness, which not necessarily guaranteed through UCR and NIBRS reports. For instance, data reporting without consideration of data quality and projections for missing values is not the best possible representation of the crime reporting process.

These issues on quality, missing data, and non-compliance are also attributed to the fact that both systems provide reports based on reported crimes. They do not consider and include non-reported crimes that take place within the country, which implies that they do not give a complete picture of the occurrence of crime in the United States. Since non-reported crimes are more than reported ones, the two approaches are not accurate representation of criminal offenses. Notably, this is considered as the major disadvantage of UCR and NIBRS because it makes it difficult for the approaches to represent America to its entirety.

While UCR program has acted a major source of data for a long period of time, questions regarding the accuracy of the reports have emerged despite the long consideration of the methods as authoritative (Lynch & Jarvis, 2008, p.69). The questions and concerns regarding the accuracy of data in Uniform Crime Reports have risen because of the extent of missing data in the series. These questions have also been fueled by the increased appearance of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which has been used in comparison with UCR to determine the most accurate method.

In attempts to promote the accuracy of crime data from UCR program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has adopted extensive methods that are used to assess the quality of UCR data based on outlier detection. However, these methods are not accurate, timely, or easy to administer by state programs because they always use statistics from regions incorporating several states instead of an individual state. The difficulties in administering these programs and using the crime data from UCR increases…

Sources Used in Documents:


Addington, L.A. (2008, February). Assessing the Extent of Nonresponse Bias on NIBRS

Estimates of Violent Crime. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 24(1), 32-49.

"Data Collection Guidelines." (2000, August). National Incident-Based Reporting System.

Retrieved from U.S. Department of Justice website:
Violence. Journal: Domestic Violence and Children, 9(3). Retrieved from
Analysis of Data Quality and Imputation Methods Using NIBRS Data. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from
Retrieved from Congressional Research Service website:
Reports and the Effects on National Estimates. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 24(1), 69-85. Retrieved from
Skogan, W.G. (1975). Measurement Problems in Official and Survey Crime Rates. Journal of Criminal Justice, 3, 17-32. Retrieved from

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