By Mary Stewart
Director, Research and Development
The development of a nationwide system to collect uniform crime reports (UCR) began 75 years ago.
In 1930, the Committee on Uniform Crime Records of the International Association of Chiefs of Police started working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to gather and analyze crime statistics. By 1966, the National Sheriffs’ Association had established a committee to work with state law enforcement associations interested in standardizing offense classifications and scoring procedures to consistently capture usable data.
As the system evolved, the data not only assisted local law enforcement agencies with their decisions, but also helped elected officials and the public to understand where enforcement efforts should be focused. Law enforcement agencies now use the UCR to:
- identify criminal statistics for administrative and operational use,
- evaluate the magnitude and trends of crime problems,
- provide base statistics to measure the workload and effectiveness of the state criminal justice system,
- focus on crime prevention and enforcement, and
- improve efficiency and performance within law enforcement agencies.
The Commonwealth of Virginia began collecting data in the 1960s. As a police officer in Virginia in the 1970s, I remember having to fill out about ten items on each standard police report for the department’s planning unit to compile each month. Before Virginia adopted a mandatory UCR in 1974, 288 agencies (56%) within the Commonwealth voluntarily reported UCR data to the FBI. This voluntary effort led to an organized effort to coordinate an accurate development of statistical information on the number of offenses and offenders in the state.
Twenty years later, a central repository was created, which became known as the Incident Based format. All agencies were given five years to convert their summary system into Incident Based Reporting.
Now, all local Virginia police departments send the information electronically to the Department of State Police. The Incident Based structure has become the primary document used to evaluate levels of criminal activity by jurisdiction and across the state. The information is published annually in a UCR, which is a public record report and should be available for any state through the state police web site. Virginia’s latest published UCR report is found at www.vsp.state.va.us/crimestatistics.htm.
In a recent review of the current UCR I was pleasantly surprised to see the extent of uniformity that has emerged across all law enforcement agencies in the past 20 years. The UCR report even contains useful data for risk management. For example, the report lists the value of property stolen or destroyed by type of offense and the amount of the property recovered by type of crime and location.
Other information collected under the current reporting structure includes: trends grouped by offense; monthly frequency; victim profiles by age, gender and race; relationship of victim to offender; resident status; how suspect(s) left the scene of the crime; time of day; day of the week; circumstances of aggravated assaults; arson classification by location; arrest data; and, other useful information, such as the number of sworn officers by jurisdiction, population, and incident rates.
The Superintendent of the Virginia State Police has noted the usefulness of the data uniformity. He has said, "By use of crime statistics, criminal justice agencies can make an informed decision concerning the most effective manner in which to dedicate their limited resources toward the reduction of crime in their communities."
This uniformity demonstrates what risk managers can accomplish with data that allows them to compare performance across jurisdictions.