UCR and NIBRS
Two of the primary data sources used in modern criminological research are the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The UCR, compiled and published by the FBI, has been in existence for nearly a century and is the most well-known data set in the field of criminal justice (Maltz & Targonski, 2002). The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is another data source of the FBI but it classifies crime statistics differently than UCR, and its purpose has been “to enhance the quantity, quality, and timeliness of crime data collection ... and to improve the methodology used in compiling, analyzing, auditing, and publishing the collected crime statistics” (US Department of Justice, 2000, p. 1). This paper will compare and contrast these two crime data sources in terms of methodological procedures and implications between the two.
The UCR collects monthly aggregate crime counts for eight Index crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny, and arson (since 1978). It makes a record of only one offense per incident as determined by its hierarchy rule, which methodically ignores counts of lesser offenses in multiple-offense incidents. This is what is known as the hierarchy rule (Odunze, 2019). Thus, the UCR is not precisely accurate in its record-keeping. Indeed, Nolan et al. (2006) have argued that “violent crime and index totals for the State were significantly undercounted in reported UCR statistics” (p. 1). The UCR also does not make any distinction between a crime that was only attempted and a crime that was actually completed (US Department of Justice, 2000).
The UCR has other idiosyncrasies that make it somewhat of antiquated system. For instance, it uses the hotel rule with burglaries, which means that if a burglary is committed in a hotel or motel and multiple units are burglarized, the incident will be recorded as only one incident of burglary. Only in rental houses where the units are rented or leased for a significant amount of time, rather than by transients, are burglaries of each unit recorded separately (Biderman & Lynch, 2012).
Another example is the fact that the UCR only records the rape of women, and does not include any other rape victims (male, trans, etc.) (US Department of Justice, 2000). Instead, rape committed on males is considered an assault in the UCR and is classified as such or as “other sex offense” (UCR Handbook, 2004, p. 20). This kind of characterization has led some researchers to adopt a critical view of the UCR (Menard & Covey, 1988).
The UCR also collects weapons information for cases of murder, robbery, and aggravated assault. It provides counts for these arrests, the other 8 Index crimes and also for 21 other offenses. The main take-away from the methodology of the UCR is that it reports only the most serious crimes and does not classify all crimes as descriptively or as accurately as the NIBRS.
The NIBRS records crime data and statistics, according to the same 8 Index crimes as the UCR but also for 38 other offenses, as opposed to just 21 in the UCR. It provides details on the offense, the offender, the victim and property (US Department of Justice, 2000). Also, rather than simply record the most severe offense according to the hierarchy rule, it records each offense that occurs within an incident. It also makes a distinction between an attempted offense and a completed offense. However, it not only adheres to the hotel rule for burglary, but it also expands that rule to include rental storage facilities. For rape, it records both female and male instances of sexual assault—not just female only. It also provides a different structure for the definition of assault. All weapons information is collected in violent offenses—not just murder, robbery and aggravated assault. Additionally, it gives details that are not provided by the UCR for the 8 Index crimes and 49 other offenses (US Department of Justice, 2000).
In incidents where there is more than one offense, the NIBRS will record them all. It provides greater breadth and depth of statistical record-keeping in terms of how it describes and defines crimes; and it offers a more complete picture of crime that can be used for various purposes by agents in the field. For instance, it can assist in criminal profiling, identifying crime trends in neighborhoods, and projecting the impact of certain policing strategies on crime.
For all the differences in methodology between the UCR and the NIBRS, however, any difference in estimated outcomes of analysis between the two is actually quite minute (US Department of Justice, 2000). For instance, when compared “on average the NIBRS Index crime rate was 2% higher. The violent crime rate was higher by less than 1%, and the property crime rate was higher by slightly more than 2%, on average” (US Department of Justice, 2000, p. 3). These percentage differences may be slight and may suggest that for developing an overall broad picture of crime in the US they are not significant. However, in terms of clarifying data and developing a database that can be used for research purposes, strategy development purposes, policy development, and other criminal justice initiatives, the better the data the better the system.
The UCR records offenses and arrests in a hierarchical manner for the offenses that make up the Index (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny, and arson). That is the first part of the UCR methodology. The second part of the methodology is for reporting arrests only for the following: Curfew and loitering law violations, Disorderly conduct, Driving under the influence, Drug abuse violations, Drunkenness, Embezzlement, Forgery and counterfeiting, Fraud, Gambling, Liquor laws, Offenses against family and children, Other assaults, Prostitution and commercial vice, Runaways, Sex offenses (except forcible rape and prostitution); Stolen property: buying, receiving, possessing; Suspicion, Vagrancy, Vandalism; Weapons: carrying, possessing, other; and All other offenses (except traffic).
The NIBRS is different in that aside from the Index of 8, the NIBRS records both offenses and reported arrests for each of the following (no hierarchy applied): Arson, Assault offenses; Bribery, Burglary/breaking and entering, Counterfeiting/forgery, Destruction/damage/vandalism of property, Drug/narcotic offenses, Embezzlement, Extortion/blackmail, Fraud offenses, Gambling offenses, Homicide offenses, Kidnaping/abduction, Larceny/theft offenses, Motor vehicle theft, Pornography/obscene material, Prostitution offenses, Robbery, Sex offenses, forcible, Sex offenses, nonforcible, Stolen property offenses, and Weapon law violations. It does not record offenses for the following—it only records arrests: Bad checks, Curfew/loitering/vagrancy, Disorderly conduct, Driving under the influence, Drunkenness, Nonviolent family offenses, Peeping Tom, Runaways, Trespassing, and All other offenses (US Department of Justice, 2000).
There are also differences between the two systems in terms of how the data…doing so. They do not include information on the type of policing strategy in effect at the district where the offense is committed or what the history of the relationship is between that police department and that community. All of these are important factors and variables that are not included in the reports but that could be helpful in better understanding crime rates in America (Addington, 2008).
The databases to be improved should also include information about general deterrence and crime control in the communities where the reports originate. General deterrence is the idea that any crime will be punished to such a degree that it would prevent a rational person from thinking of committing a crime. Specific deterrence is the idea that an offender is punished so severely for a crime that he will never want to commit that crime again. The key difference between the two is that the first deters by threat of punishment and the latter deters by inflicting punishment. These two strategies relate to crime prevention because they are punitive or carry the threat of punitive justice and thus that is believed to be enough to make a person think twice before committing a crime. Crime control is an intervention that is implemented after an offense has been committed rather than before. Crime control can be a deterrent, such as a punishment for crime, or it can be an intervention, such as a program to help rehabilitate—such as alternative sentencing or restorative justice (Daly, 2016). The relationship between crime control and the concepts of general and specific deterrence is that general deterrence is more about preventive crime control whereas specific deterrence is more of a direct example of crime control via punitive justice. This information can be very helpful for criminologists in determining why rates of crime are higher in some communities than in others based on what types of deterrence are in play there, what types of crime control are implemented and so on. Researchers could use this information and do in their own studies, but to obtain the data they have to spend hours, days, weeks and months collecting it and analyzing it. If that data were already gathered together into one database it could make understanding and reviewing crime much easier. These are all considerations that the FBI should look at as they could enhance the manner and degree to which policing in America is required.
The primary data sources used in modern criminological research are limited in terms of the type of information they provide to criminologists seeking to understand crime. While the NIBRS provides a more detailed account of crime than the UCR, neither is wholly effective in helping researchers to draw a complete picture of crime, and much information is left out that could clarify the picture, give it context, and help new meaning to be gained. In conclusion, both the UCR and the NIBRS are limited in terms of the kind of helpful data they provide. The data is not necessarily superficial, but it is often without context and without completeness. The UCR is more simplistic in its approach to record keeping because it does not even provide all the relevant information regarding offenses committed but instead focuses on the serious offenses. The NIBRS is a bit better in that it gives details on the offender and the victim, but it does…
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