The FBI’s UCR Program is a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort of nearly 18,000 city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily reporting data on crimes brought to their attention. Since 1930, the FBI has administered the UCR Program and continued to assess and monitor the nature and type of crime in the Nation. The program’s primary objective is to generate reliable information for use in law enforcement administration, operation, and management; however, its data have over the years become one of the country’s leading social indicators. Criminologists, sociologists, legislators, municipal planners, the media, and other students of criminal justice use the data for varied research and planning purposes. In 2009, law enforcement agencies active in the UCR Program represented more than 295 million United States inhabitants—96.3 percent of the total population. The coverage amounted to 97.1 percent of the population in Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 90.9 percent of the population in cities outside metropolitan areas, and 93.0 percent of the population in nonmetropolitan counties.
Providing vital links between local law enforcement and the FBI in the oversight of the UCR Program are the Criminal Justice Information Systems Committees of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). The IACP, representing the thousands of police departments nationwide, and the NSA, serving sheriffs throughout the country, encourage agencies to participate fully in the program. Both committees serve in advisory capacities concerning the UCR Program’s operation.
In 1988, a Data Providers’ Advisory Policy Board was established to provide input for UCR matters. That Board operated until 1993 when it combined with the National Crime Information Center Advisory Policy Board to form a single Advisory Policy Board (APB) to address all issues regarding the FBI’s criminal justice information services. The current APB ensures continuing emphasis on UCR-related issues. In addition, the Association of State UCR Programs (ASUCRP) focuses on UCR issues within individual state law enforcement associations and also promotes interest in the UCR Program. These organizations foster widespread and responsible use of uniform crime statistics and lend assistance to data contributors when needed.
Recognizing a need for national crime statistics, the IACP formed the Committee on Uniform Crime Records in the 1920s to develop a system of uniform crime statistics. After studying state criminal codes and making an evaluation of the recordkeeping practices in use, the Committee completed a plan for crime reporting that became the foundation of the UCR Program in 1929. The plan included standardized offense definitions for seven main offense classifications known as Part I crimes to gauge fluctuations in the overall volume and rate of crime. Developers also instituted the Hierarchy Rule as the main reporting procedure for what is now known as the Summary Reporting System of the UCR Program.
The seven Part I offense classifications included the violent crimes of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. By congressional mandate, arson was added as the eighth Part I offense category in 1979.
In January 1930, 400 cities representing 20 million inhabitants in 43 states began participating in the UCR Program. That same year, Congress enacted Title 28, Section 534, of the United States Code authorizing the Attorney General to gather crime information. The Attorney General, in turn, designated the FBI to serve as the national clearinghouse for the crime data collected. Every year since, data based on uniform classifications and procedures for reporting offenses and arrests have been obtained from the Nation’s law enforcement agencies.
Although the data collected and disseminated by the UCR Program remained virtually unchanged throughout the years, in the 1980s, a broad utility had evolved for UCR. Recognizing the need for improved statistics, law enforcement called for a thorough evaluative study to modernize the UCR Program. The FBI concurred with the need for an updated program and lent its complete support, formulating a comprehensive three-phase redesign effort. The first two phases of this effort, guided by input from representatives of the FBI, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the IACP, and the NSA, culminated with the release of a comprehensive report.
The final report, the Blueprint for the Future of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program (Blueprint), was released in May 1985. It specifically outlined three areas of enhancement to help the UCR Program meet future informational needs. First, agencies would use an incident-based system to report offenses and arrests. Second, the national UCR Program would collect data on two levels (i.e., limited and full participation), and third, the national UCR Program would introduce a quality assurance program.
In January 1986, the FBI began phase III of the redesign effort guided by the general recommendations set forth in the Blueprint. Contractors developed new data guidelines and system specifications while the FBI studied various state systems to select an experimental site to implement the redesigned program. Upon selecting the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which enlisted the cooperation of nine local law enforcement agencies, the FBI developed automated data capture specifications to adapt the SLED’s state system to the national UCR Program’s standards, and the BJS funded the revisions. The pilot demonstration ran from March 1–September 30, 1987, and resulted in further refinement of the guidelines and specifications.
March 1–3, 1988, the FBI held a National UCR Conference to present the new system to law enforcement and to obtain feedback on its acceptability. Attendees of the National UCR Conference passed three overall recommendations without dissent: first, that there be established a new, incident-based national crime reporting system; second, that the FBI manage this program; and third, that an APB composed of law enforcement executives be formed to assist in directing and implementing the new program. Furthermore, attendees recommended that the implementation of national incident-based reporting proceed at a pace commensurate with the resources and limitations of contributing law enforcement agencies.
From March 1988 through January 1989, the FBI proceeded in developing and assuming management of the UCR Program’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), and by April 1989, the national UCR Program received the first test submission of NIBRS data. Over the course of the next few years, the national UCR Program published information about the redesigned program in five documents:
As more agencies inquired about the NIBRS, the FBI, in May 2002, made the Handbook for Acquiring a Records Management System (RMS) that is Compatible with NIBRS available to agencies considering or developing automated incident-based records management systems. The handbook, developed under the sponsorship of the FBI and the BJS, provides instructions on planning for and conducting a system acquisition and offers guidelines on preparing an agency for conversion to the new system and to the NIBRS.
Originally designed with 52 data elements, the NIBRS captures up to 57 data elements via six types of data segments: administrative, offense, victim, property, offender, and arrestee. Although, in the late 1980s, the FBI committed to hold all changes to the NIBRS in abeyance until a substantial amount of contributors implemented the system, modifications have been necessary. The system’s flexibility has allowed for the collection of four additional pieces of information to be captured within an incident: bias-motivated offenses (1990), the presence of gang activity (1997), data for law enforcement officers killed and assaulted (2003), and data on cargo theft (2005).
The FBI began accepting NIBRS data from a handful of agencies in January 1989. As more contributing law enforcement agencies become educated about the rich data available through incident-based reporting and as resources permit, more agencies are implementing the NIBRS. Based on 2009 data submissions, approximately 44 percent of reporting agencies are certified for NIBRS participation. These agencies include one individual agency each in Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, and the District of Columbia, as well as the state UCR Programs of the following 32 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Among those that submit NIBRS data, 13 states (Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia) submit all their data via the NIBRS. Five state UCR Programs and three agencies that report their crime statistics directly to the FBI are in various stages of testing the NIBRS. Six other programs are planning and developing the NIBRS, including four state agencies, Washington, D.C., and a U.S. territory.
In June 2004, the CJIS APB approved discontinuing the use of the Crime Index in the UCR Program and its publications and directed the FBI to publish a violent crime total and a property crime total. The Crime Index, first published in Crime in the United States in 1960, was the title used for a simple aggregation of the seven main offense classifications (Part I offenses) in the Summary Reporting System. The Modified Crime Index was the number of Crime Index offenses plus arson.
For several years the CJIS Division studied the appropriateness and usefulness of these indices and brought the matter before many advisory groups including the UCR Subcommittee of the CJIS APB, the ASUCRP, and a meeting of leading criminologists and sociologists hosted by the BJS. In short, the Crime Index and the Modified Crime Index were not true indicators of the degrees of criminality because they were always driven upward by the offense with the highest number, typically larceny-theft. The sheer volume of those offenses overshadowed more serious but less frequently committed offenses, creating a bias against a jurisdiction with a high number of larceny-thefts but a low number of other serious crimes such as murder and forcible rape.
In response to federal legislation outlined in the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005, the UCR Program began accepting cargo theft data from local, state, tribal, and federal agencies on January 1, 2010. Congress commissioned the FBI to begin capturing crime data on human trafficking in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009 requires the collection of data on crimes motivated by "gender and gender identity" bias, as well as "crimes committed by, and crimes directed against, juveniles." The national UCR Program staff is developing collection strategies to meet both of these most recent mandates.
In addition, to meet a directive of the U.S. Government’s Office of Management and Budget, the national UCR Program will expand race categories from four (White, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Asian or Other Pacific Islander) to five (White, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander). The ethnicity categories will change from "Hispanic" to "Hispanic or Latino Origin" and from "Non-Hispanic" to "Not of Hispanic or Latino Origin."
The FBI is in the process of implementing a redevelopment project to streamline the program’s database management and quality control activities, reduce the turnaround time for publications and special requests for information, and provide greater data accessibility for external users. Through this internal system modernization, the FBI will help improve data quality. Ultimately, these improvements will be visible to the law enforcement agencies that contribute data to the program in the form of better service and, potentially, in the allocation of resources from the Department of Justice, which distributes allocations based upon an agencies’ data. In addition, the new system will offer an external public, interactive web portal that will allow users to independently create and run simple ad-hoc reports with access to complete UCR datasets. The project is moving into the design phase, and is tentatively scheduled for deployment in January 2013.