Law enforcement agencies reporting crime to the FBI can clear, or “close,” the offenses in one of two ways: by arrest or by exceptional means. However, the administrative closing of a case by a local law enforcement agency does not necessarily mean that the agency can clear an offense for UCR purposes. To clear an offense within the Program’s guidelines, the reporting agency must adhere to certain criteria, which are outlined in the following text. (Note: The UCR Program does not distinguish between offenses cleared by arrest and those cleared by exceptional means in its data presentations. The distinction is made solely for the purpose of a definition and not for data collection and publication.)
In the UCR Program, a law enforcement agency reports that an offense is cleared by arrest, or solved for crime reporting purposes, when at least one person is:
To qualify as a clearance, all of the conditions listed above must have been met. In its calculations, the UCR Program counts the number of offenses that are cleared, not the number of arrestees. Therefore, the arrest of one person may clear several crimes, and the arrest of many persons may clear only one offense. In addition, some clearances that an agency records in a particular calendar year, such as 2004, may pertain to offenses that occurred in previous years.
In certain situations, elements beyond law enforcement’s control prevent the agency from arresting and formally charging the offender. When this occurs, the agency can clear the offense exceptionally. There are four Program requirements that law enforcement must meet in order to clear an offense by exceptional means. The agency must have:
Examples of exceptional clearances include, but are not limited to, the death of the offender (e.g., suicide or justifiably killed by police or citizen); the victim’s refusal to cooperate with the prosecution after the offender has been identified; or the denial of extradition because the offender committed a crime in another jurisdiction and is being prosecuted for that offense. In the UCR Program, the recovery of property does not clear an offense.
A review of the data for 2004 revealed that the percentages of violent and property crime offenses cleared by arrest or exceptional means remained virtually unchanged from the 2003 percentages. In 2004, law enforcement agencies in the United States cleared 46.3 percent of violent crimes (murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and 16.5 percent of property crimes (burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft) brought to their attention. In addition, law enforcement cleared 17.1 percent of arson offenses, which are reported in a slightly different manner than the other property crimes. (More details concerning this offense are furnished in the Arson section.)
As in most years, law enforcement agencies cleared a higher percentage of violent crimes than property crimes in 2004. As a rule, this long-term trend is attributed to the more vigorous investigative efforts that are given to violent crimes. In addition, violent crimes more often involve victims and/or witnesses who are able to identify the perpetrators.
A breakdown of the clearances for violent crimes for 2004 revealed that the Nation’s law enforcement agencies cleared 62.6 percent of murder offenses, 55.6 percent of aggravated assaults, 41.8 percent of forcible rapes, and 26.2 percent of robbery offenses. The data for property crimes showed that agencies cleared 18.3 percent of larceny-theft offenses, 13.0 percent of motor vehicle theft offenses, and 12.9 percent of burglary offenses. (See Table 25.)
The UCR Program divides the Nation into four regions: the Northeast, the Midwest, the South, and the West. (See Appendix III.) A review of clearance data for 2004 by region showed that agencies in the Northeast cleared the greatest proportion of their violent crime offenses (50.3 percent). Agencies in the West cleared 47.1 percent of their violent crimes, and law enforcement in the South and the Midwest cleared 46.2 percent and 41.8 percent, respectively.
Clearance data for 2004 showed that, among the regions, agencies in the Northeast cleared the highest percentage of their property crimes (20.2 percent). Law enforcement in the South and Midwest cleared 16.9 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively. Agencies in the West cleared 14.6 percent of their property crimes. (See Table 26.)
The UCR Program uses the following population group designations in its data presentations: cities (grouped according to population size) and counties (classified as either metropolitan or nonmetropolitan). (A breakdown of these classifications is furnished in Appendix III.)
In 2004, the clearance data collected showed that law enforcement agencies in the Nation’s cities cleared 43.7 percent of their violent crime offenses. Among the city population groups, agencies in the smallest cities, those with populations under 10,000 inhabitants, cleared the greatest proportion of their violent crime offenses (57.7 percent), and law enforcement in the Nation’s largest cities, those with 250,000 or more residents, cleared the smallest proportion of their violent crime offenses (38.5 percent). The clearance data for murder, an offense of particular interest to law enforcement, showed that among the city population groups, agencies in cities with populations ranging from 10,000 to 24,999 cleared the greatest percentage of their murders (74.4 percent), Law enforcement in the Nation’s largest cities cleared the lowest percentage of their murders (58.0 percent).
A further review of the clearance data for 2004 showed that agencies in the Nation’s cities cleared 16.4 percent of their property crime offenses. Law enforcement in cities with populations ranging from 10,000 to 24,999 residents cleared the highest proportion of the property crimes (20.9 percent) brought to their attention, and as with the clearances for violent crime, agencies in the largest cities cleared the smallest proportion of their property crimes (12.9 percent). Of the property crimes known to law enforcement in cities collectively, the highest percentage of offenses cleared was for larceny-theft offenses at 18.4 percent. (See Table 25.)
An examination of clearance data submitted by law enforcement in metropolitan counties in 2004 showed that these agencies cleared 54.5 percent of their violent crime offenses. Of the violent crimes made known to them, law enforcement in metropolitan counties most often cleared their murder offenses, reporting that 64.4 percent of those offenses were cleared. Further, clearance data also showed that law enforcement in metropolitan counties cleared 16.9 percent of their total property crimes. Of the property crimes known to agencies in these counties, the greatest percentage of clearances was for larceny-theft offenses (18.0 percent). (See Table 25.)
Just as for metropolitan counties, clearance figures for nonmetropolitan counties showed that these agencies collectively cleared a greater proportion of their violent crimes and property crimes —with the exception of larceny-theft—than did the Nation as a whole in 2004. A further breakdown of the clearance data revealed that agencies in nonmetropolitan counties cleared 60.6 percent of their violent crime offenses, and of the violent crimes known to them, law enforcement in these counties had the highest number of clearances for murder (74.2 percent). A further examination of the clearance data collected also showed that law enforcement in these counties cleared 17.8 percent of their property crime offenses. Among the property crimes known to these agencies, the highest percentage of offenses cleared was for motor vehicle theft at 26.0 percent. In addition, law enforcement in these counties cleared 17.7 percent of their larceny-theft offenses. (See Table 25.)
When an offender under the age of 18 is cited to appear in juvenile court or before other juvenile authorities, the UCR Program considers the incident for which the juvenile is being held responsible to be cleared by arrest, although a physical arrest may not have occurred. In addition, according to Program definitions, clearances that include both adult and juvenile offenders are classified as clearances for crimes committed by adults. Therefore, because the clearance percentages for crimes committed by juveniles include only those clearances in which no adults were involved, the figures in this publication should not be used to present a definitive picture of juvenile involvement in crime.
Of the clearances for violent crime that were reported in the Nation in 2004, 12.1 percent involved only juveniles, a rate that remained virtually unchanged from the previous year’s statistics. In addition, 18.9 percent of clearances for property crime in 2004 involved only juveniles, down slightly from the 19.3 percent of clearances for property crime in 2003. Of all the crime categories—for both violent crime and property crime—clearances for murder offenses had the lowest percentage of involvement solely by juveniles (4.7 percent), and arson clearances involving only juveniles comprised the highest percentage (42.7 percent).
Clearance data broken down by population groups revealed that in cities collectively 12.3 percent of the clearances for violent crime involved juveniles only. Of the city groups, law enforcement agencies in cities with populations ranging from 25,000 to 49,999 inhabitants reported the largest percentage of clearances for violent crime that involved only juvenile offenders (14.2 percent). During 2004, 12.3 percent of clearances for violent crime in metropolitan counties and 9.3 percent of clearances for violent crimes in nonmetropolitan counties exclusively involved juveniles.
Clearance data collected for property crime offenses committed in the Nation’s cities showed that 19.6 percent of these clearances solely involved juveniles. Law enforcement agencies in cities with populations ranging from 50,000 to 99,999 inhabitants reported the largest percentage of property crime clearances exclusively involving juveniles (21.7 percent). In metropolitan counties, 16.4 percent of the property crime clearances involved juveniles only, and in nonmetropolitan counties, 14.8 percent of property crime clearances involved juveniles only. (See Table 28.)
Information regarding the UCR Program’s statistical methodology and table construction can be found in Appendix I.