UCR's Blueprint for the Future

The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 1992 | Go to article overview

UCR's Blueprint for the Future


Each month, for over 60 years, law enforcement agencies across the country tallied crime, clearance, and arrest statistics and sent them to the FBI. The FBI, in turn, combined the reports of thousands of agencies and published periodic assessments on the amount, type, and trends in crime known to law enforcement. Soon, however, this cumbersome manual process used by law enforcement agencies to record crime data will be relegated to the annals of law enforcement history.

The advent of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) marks the transition to a modern automated system of retrieving crime data directly from law enforcement records. With NIBRS, law enforcement agencies can transfer directly crime information needed at the national and State levels from local computer systems through automated processes. The crime statistics database becomes much more comprehensive and flexible than it ever was under the old-fashioned system that used standardized reporting forms.

While it will, of course, take time for the more than 16,000 law enforcement agency data contributors to institute NIBRS, remarkable progress continues to be made. As a result, the criminal justice system can look forward to a wealth of crime-related data in the foreseeable future.

Background

Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) is a nationwide cooperative effort, the objective of which is to provide a reliable set of criminal statistics for use in law enforcement administration, operation, and management. The data produced through the program over the years represent one of the Nation's leading social indicators, providing valid assessments of the nature, extent, and fluctuations of crime in the United States.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conceived the program in the 1920s when it recognized a need for national crime statistics. Unlike other free world countries, no nationwide criminal code for "common law"-type offenses existed in the United States. That is, each State possessed a unique criminal statute, thus precluding an aggregation of State statistics to arrive at a national total. There was, therefore, no common language by which to measure the nature and extent of crime in the country or from one jurisdiction to another.

To respond to these needs, the IACP established a Committee on Uniform Crime Records, and after years of study, the committee developed a system that constituted the UCR Program for over 6 decades. The system included a set of standardized definitions by which law enforcement agencies nationwide voluntarily submitted crime data on a monthly basis.

Establishing crimes reported to law enforcement as the measurement, the committee selected seven offenses to comprise a Crime Index that would be used to gauge changes in the nature and extent of crime. In 1930, approximately 400 law enforcement agencies started reporting crime statistics, and in that same year, Congress passed legislation authorizing the U.S. Attorney General to collect these statistics. The Attorney General, in turn, designated the FBI to act as the national clearinghouse for crimes known to law enforcement. Today, over 16,000 agencies offering law enforcement service to over 96 percent of the Nation's population voluntarily participate in the program.

Looking Toward The Future

Throughout its first 60 years of operation, the UCR Program remained virtually unchanged in terms of the data collected and disseminated. As time passed, a broad application evolved for UCR, and law enforcement expanded its capabilities to supply information related to crime. In the late 1970s, the law enforcement community called for a thorough evaluation of UCR, with the objective of recommending a revised UCR Program to meet law enforcement needs into the 21st century.

The FBI fully concurred with the need for an updated program to meet contemporary needs and lent its support by formulating a comprehensive redesign effort. …

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