The Uniform Crime Report is a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort that includes over 18,000 institutions in the United States. This data goes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to create a database on crimes that occur at the local, country, state, and federal level. The program has been administered annually since 1930, and it continues to assess and monitor the types of criminal activity that occur across the country.
The primary objective of the UCR is to generate reliable information for use in the administration of law enforcement activities. It provides assistance with the management and operation of enforcement at every level. In recent years, this information has also become one of the most critical leading social indicators in the United States. Everyone from municipal planners to sociologists use this info for their various planning and research purposes.
As with any other effort to collect data on a specific subject, the uniform crime report offers several pros and cons worth considering.
List of the Pros of the Uniform Crime Report
1. It provides specific details about crime and arrests in communities.
The methodology of the current reporting system allows the Uniform Crime Report to provide detailed information about the arrests and criminal activities that occur in various levels of society. By understanding what the trends are for this behavior, local officials can work to prevent more unwanted activities from occurring because they can identify trends in specific crimes. That makes it easier to identify potential offenders, protect possible victims, and reduce the threat of violence.
2. It collects information about specific crimes in several different categories.
The Uniform Crime Report focuses on various different crimes that can occur in the community. It tracks violent classifications, curfew offenses, and even loitering. The most common statistics that organizations pull from the UCR tend to involve the upper-tier offenses of homicide, aggravated assault, forcible rape, and robbery. Other crimes that are monitored through this report include embezzlement, drug offenses, fraud, DUIs, disorderly conduct, forgery, and counterfeiting. That is why this database serves as the primary source of crime statistics in the United States.
3. It is information that anyone can access if they wish.
You do not need to have a special permission to access the information in the Uniform Crime Report. Anyone with access to a computer can quickly see what is in the report and what it means for their community. You can access the 2018 UCR by following this link: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/preliminary-report
Although you are cautioned against making comparisons between cities with this information, valid assessments are possible when you take into account the various range of unique conditions that are present in each jurisdiction. This process makes it possible to understand more about what is happening at every community level when further research into the figures takes place.
4. It provides a resource that reviews hate crime statistics in the United States.
The Hate Crime Statistics Program is part of the UCR, providing information on crimes that are motivated by an offenders’ bias against their victim’s race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, culture, or ethnicity. This information is collected in other reports as well, but the Uniform Crime Report makes it easier to compare the data from past years to identify trends where a specific group might see more targeting.
5. It is the oldest reporting system currently available in the country.
The reason why the Uniform Crime Report is such a popular report to use is because it contains decades of data for reference. Since it is also run by the FBI, there is an added level of certainty available with the information because it comes from one of the top law enforcement agencies in the country. This structure gives the database opportunities to provide old-trend analysis while collecting from a broad range of information resources to ensure that the voluntary data is as accurate as possible.
6. It places the data into a usable format.
The Uniform Crime Report comes in two different forms. You can receive the raw data that you can then filter and sort by yourself to find specific information. It also comes with a report summary that makes the info easier to consume for the average person. That makes it easier to see what the historical perspective of crime is for communities or the country, making it possible to view how our population perceives this conduct differently over the years. You will receive a consistent local, regional, and national sample with the report so that various trends can be compared in each community even if the actual data points are not useful for that activity.
List of the Cons of the Uniform Crime Report
1. It is a system of reporting that relies on voluntary data.
Communities are not forced to report their information to the Uniform Crime Report each year. Although there are 18,000+ institutions which regularly provide data to the FBI, this information is not a complete picture of what is going on in our communities. Some institutions may not keep track of all of the different categories that the UCR covers as well, so the data does not always reflect the various trends which are present in the community. If the information from a report is complete, then this database is useful. Far too often, the info that one community reports can be very different from what another one offers.
2. It relies on crime discovery to be an accurate tool.
Some estimates suggest that up to 40% of the violent crime that occurs in the United States goes unreported each year. Some experts such as Steven Barkan suggest that as few as 3% of all criminal activity that happens in each community is discovered by a law enforcement official and noted in the data. That means the actual statistics on crime can be extensively higher than what the Uniform Crime Report suggests with its annual report. If you want to receive an accurate picture of what is happening in a community, then you may need to double some of the figures which are present.
3. It uses a system of hierarchy for reporting criminal activity.
The Uniform Crime Report often receives criticism for the way that it handles the statistics it receives from the community because it implements a hierarchy rule for multiple offenses. If the same person commits multiple crimes simultaneously, then the most significant crime is the only one that receives a statistical notation in the UCR.
Let’s use the example of a fatal carjacking incident. The individual charged with the incident might have several crimes charged to them during the arrest, ranging from traffic violations to the theft of the automobile to the murder of the driver. Under the structure of the Uniform Crime Report, only the homicide would receive a report. And then, if the suspect were to get in a shootout with officers and kill one of them, the incident with the official would receive a priority.
4. It does not include some crimes, even though they get reported.
The UCR does not include some data on rape because of the way the information in the report gets collected. For the Uniform Crime Report, the term “forcible rape” in past versions of the report only refers to an incident where a man forces himself onto a woman against her will. That means any rape incidents that are same-gender or an incident against a man do not count in this category. If they do receive inclusion in the report, then it may be as an aggravated assault at best. This disadvantage means that the data provided does not always accurately reflect what is happening in the community because the presence of definitions is lacking.
Although drug use is part of the Uniform Crime Report, this activity does not get reported as consistently as other criminal activities. Part of the reason for this issue is the lack of definition for this category. Since recreational marijuana laws permit usage in several states, what is legal in one community could be illegal in another.
5. It does not report data very quickly.
As of April 30, 2019, the information that is available for the Uniform Crime Report includes the first six months of 2018. This data can then be compared to that same period from the year before or any other previous year. There are times when it takes more than 12 months for the complete report to reach the public, which can make it challenging for the community to provide the necessary response to the criminal activities. An immediate response is impossible unless officials decide to use the data they’d send to the UCR for their own purposes at the same time.
6. It does not offer information about the criminals.
The Uniform Crime Report only provides information about the specific crimes that occur in a community based on its hierarchy rules. You do not receive any data about the individuals involved with the criminal conduct. Since only the highest crime is reported as well, you may receive an incomplete picture of what happens since some people commit multiple crimes of similar types frequently. It creates a system where the data can even be manipulated if the voluntary reporting purposely excludes some information.
7. It struggles to find reporting errors.
The Uniform Crime Report relies on the accuracy of the information that communities provide to it on a voluntary basis. If there are errors in the reported statistics, then the FBI has no way of knowing that this issue is present. That can make it challenging to uncover some key data points about criminal behavior, especially when the data omits certain crimes. If you were to only look at the Summary Reporting System, there are just eight crimes listed as Part I offenses. That makes it challenging to know from a law enforcement perspective what is happening in a community.
The pros and cons of the Uniform Crime Report are important to review because this tool is useful, but incomplete. It is challenging to compare data from different geographic regions in the United States because the voluntary reporting from each community might have different rules to follow. Think of this information as the first step toward determining what trends are shaping each community and the country as a whole since it can monitor several key data points at once.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.