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Studying the Crime Problem with NIBRS Data: Current Uses and Future Trends

Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

Since 1930, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) through its national Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) has collected mainly aggregate counts of crime from state and local law enforcement agencies. This focus limits the official crime data available for analysis and policy making because, with the exception of homicides, characteristics of specific incidents are unknown. Information such as crime location, use of weapons, type of property stolen as well as victim and offender demographics provides a more complete picture of crime and crime patterns. Such details enable assessment of both current policies aimed to reduce crime and posited theories generated to explain it. Prompted by more sophisticated studies and understandings of crime as well as improved technological capabilities to capture and transmit incident information, the FBI instituted fundamental changes in the late 1980 s for how the UCR would collect crime data (FBI, 2004). Currently the UCR is in the midst of undergoing this substantial conversion from its traditional summary-based system (the summary reporting system) to its new incident-based one, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

Keywords

  • Hate Crime
  • Uniform Crime Reporting
  • Crime Data
  • National Crime Victimization Survey
  • Criminal Incident

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The UCR collects incident-level homicide data through its Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). The current format of the SHR dates back to 1976 (Barnett-Ryan, 2007).

  2. 2.

    The other data components include Supplement to Return A; Age, Sex, and Race of Persons Arrested; Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR); Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA); Hate Crime Data Collection; Monthly Report of Arson Offenses Known Law Enforcement; and Law Enforcement Employees Report. Readers interested in more information on each of these components are directed to Barnett-Ryan (2007) for a comprehensive discussion.

  3. 3.

    The two exceptions in the summary reporting system are attempted rape and attempted murder. Unlike attempted rapes, attempted murders are not distinctly identified but rather are included in the overall count of aggravated assaults.

  4. 4.

    An additional 10 data elements are required if an arrest is made (FBI, 2000).

  5. 5.

    If the incident date is unknown, the date reported to police must be provided (FBI, 1992). An example of such a situation would be a burglary that occurred while the homeowner was out of town for several days. The incident date would be recorded as the date the owner reported the burglary to the police. The incident report (and public-use data it generates) distinguishes between incident and report date (FBI, 1992).

  6. 6.

    The Justice Research and Statistics Association’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Data Resource Center maintains a list of states that collect additional incident-level details for crimes involving domestic violence or sexual assault (http://www.jrsa.org/dvsa-drc/state-summaries.shtml).

  7. 7.

    In addition to the 30 NIBRS-certified states, agencies from 4 states and the District of Columbia are individually certified to submit NIBRS data (JRSA, n.d. a). In the District of Columbia, only the Metro Transit Police report to NIBRS data. One reason for this situation is the fact that a few states do not have state-level UCR programs (Maltz, 1999). In these cases and under special circumstances, the FBI certifies individual agencies (BJS, 1997).

  8. 8.

    The count of articles is based on a search of publications cited in Criminal Justice Abstracts through 2007. In addition to academic articles, 13 government reports were published during this time. Not included in this count are reports the FBI publishes that utilize NIBRS data. These reports originally were included in the FBI’s annual UCR publication: Crime in the United States. Since 2007, these studies have been published as stand-alone reports (FBI, 2007).

  9. 9.

    This change in attitude also is facilitated by the growing number of states and law enforcement agencies that submit their UCR data in NIBRS format. In the 1990 s, many criminologists saw NIBRS as a fad and were skeptical as to whether this new data collection effort would succeed in replacing the summary reporting system.

  10. 10.

    One limitation with using LEMAS and NIBRS is the fact that LEMAS oversamples law enforcement agencies serving the largest communities. As discussed previously, these agencies are less likely to participate in NIBRS than ones serving smaller communities.

  11. 11.

    The number of cases collected by NIBRS raises another issue, but one that has been largely ignored and yet to be addressed. This issue is how best to analyze very large samples. For example, a given year of NIBRS data can generate hundreds of thousands of aggravated assaults. Because of the asymptotic properties of many statistical procedures commonly used by criminologists, most relationships in NIBRS analyses tend to be statistically significant. This analytical issue has yet to be tackled, but will need to be addressed as these data are used more frequently.

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Addington, L.A. (2009). Studying the Crime Problem with NIBRS Data: Current Uses and Future Trends. In: Krohn, M., Lizotte, A., Hall, G. (eds) Handbook on Crime and Deviance. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0245-0_2

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