The FBI’s UCR Program is a nationwide, cooperative statistical effort of more than 17,000 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 United States. 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 2008, law enforcement agencies active in the UCR Program represented more than 288 million United States inhabitant—94.9 percent of the total population. The coverage amounted to 96.0 percent of the population in Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 87.6 percent of the population in cities outside metropolitan areas, and 90.0 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 Uniform Crime Reporting 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. Congress enacted Title 28, Section 534, of the United States Code authorizing the Attorney General to gather crime information that same year. 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). Third, the UCR Program would introduce a quality assurance plan.
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 advisory policy board 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 the agency for conversion to the new system and to the NIBRS.
Originally designed with 52 data elements, the NIBRS captures up to 56 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, three modifications have been necessary. To meet growing challenges in the fight against crime, the system’s flexibility has permitted the addition of a new data element to capture bias-motivated offenses (1990), the expansion of an existing data element to indicate the presence of gang activity (1997), and the addition of three new data elements to collect data for law enforcement officers killed and assaulted (2003).
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 2008 data submissions, approximately 39 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 programs of the following 31 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, 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. Nine state UCR Programs are in various stages of testing the NIBRS. Six other state agencies are planning and developing the NIBRS.
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 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.
For the last 20 years, the UCR Program has maintained its long-running time series of data via the submissions of both the Summary Reporting System and NIBRS contributors. Though the FBI continues to convert NIBRS data to provide equivalent Summary statistics for the annual publication Crime in the United States, the FBI has published a number of monographs to demonstrate the utility of NIBRS data. It has also made available the raw data files for those interested in studying them.
Technology has expanded our information resources. Since 1995 the FBI has published its three annual UCR series, Crime in the United States, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, and Hate Crime Statistics, to the Internet to reduce its reliance on printed copy. In 2006, the FBI discontinued the printed versions of these publications altogether to focus its efforts on retooling the electronic versions to be more useful. Future plans include providing database-driven presentations of Summary and NIBRS data, static presentations using only NIBRS data, as well as the publication of more special studies using NIBRS data.
Many of the documents referred to in this summary are available at www.fbi.gov/ucr/ucr.htm.
The UCR Program faces several challenges. Although thousands of law enforcement agencies in the United States and its territories submit their UCR crime data to the FBI, the UCR Program’s technology lags behind many of the state systems. As the program steward, the FBI initiated the redevelopment project to develop information technology solutions to streamline database management activities and enhance the level of data quality control, reduce the turnaround time for publications and special requests for information, and provide greater data accessibility for external users. In conjunction, the program is reviewing many of its practices used in collecting, analyzing, processing, and disseminating data. Through the redevelopment project, the FBI aims to substantially improve the products and services to UCR data contributors, law enforcement agencies, the general public, and other stakeholders, as well as to position the UCR Program to accommodate future data requirements.