Magazine article Security Management

What's the Real Story on Crime Statistics?

Magazine article Security Management

What's the Real Story on Crime Statistics?

Article excerpt

HOW MUCH CRIME EXISTS in our country? Is the crime rate in the United States increasing, decreasing, or stable? With thousands of social scientists and agencies tracking the figures, security managers should know the answers. To fight increasing crime and demand tough legislation, security professionals must ask tough questions of law enforcement and government officials. We must also demand thorough explanations of crime statistics, since crime measurement is an imprecise practice.

For 43 years, only one main source of data for crime measurement was available. The Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which is administered by the FBI, was initiated in 1930. The program is a nationwide, volunteer, cooperative effort by city, county, and state law enforcement agencies to report crime in the United States. The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) comes out every August and reports crime data for the previous year. The most recent UCR, Crime in the United States, 1990, appeared in 1991.

Data from the 1991 UCR was alarming. For instance, the murder rate, which refers to the number of people murdered per 100,000 individuals, had increased again. Murder reached an all-time high of 23,438 persons killed. Bank robberies were up from 11 to 19 percent from the previous year, depending on the area of the country. Using the concept of a "crime clock," the FBI reports that a violent crime such as a murder, rape, aggravated assault, or robbery occurred every 17 seconds and a murder every 22 minutes in 1990.

Since the UCR was the only source for crime statistics for many years, it was criticized regularly as a measure of crime by statisticians, scientists, and even police authorities. It was justifiably maligned. The major problem with the UCR was that it only compiled crimes known or reported to police.

Other problems existed too. Crime reports to the FBI were and still are voluntary. This reporting by local agencies, often self-serving, capricious, and arbitrary, was never audited. If a police department wanted more officers, it would report everything. The department would obtain the budget for more personnel, then stop reporting as thoroughly. Crime decreased as expected.

The most crime-free periods were during police strikes. Officers did not work and did not report any crime. Thus, according to the reports, little or no crime occurred.

The UCR also reports clearance rates. A clearance generally occurs when an individual is apprehended, charged, and turned over to the court for one of the crimes in UCR. Clearance rates only refer to apprehensions, not convictions. They are still usually low. Clearance rates in 1990 for auto theft consistently ran about 15 percent. This means that of every 100 car thefts reported to police, 15 individuals were apprehended.

The clearance rate is frequently used by departments to suggest they are doing a great job. However, this can be subject to manipulation. Consider the following scenario: "Want to plea bargain, Mr. Apprehended Burglar? Admit to burglarizing these 30 residences and we will |clear' a number of your cases and encourage the district attorney to view you as cooperative."

In addition in the past the UCR only listed the most serious offense when an offender had committed several crimes. If a vicious attacker robbed, raped, and then murdered a victim, this incident was reported as a single crime: murder.

Rape reporting also generated much criticism. The UCR's definition of rape is carnal knowledge of a female forcibly or against her will. Yet, the rate was calculated based on the total population, male and female. The rate is still calculated this way, but it now includes figures based on a total population of females only because more women than men are raped. …

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