The magnitude of the crime problem can be evaluated using both official and victimization measures of crime. The use of official crime statistics, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports, provides a view of crime from the standpoint of what the formal criminal justice system must handle. Many critics argue that this provides an inaccurate and incomplete analysis of the true levels of crime in society. These individuals point to the results of victimization surveys as a basis for their argument. Although each presents a different absolute level of crime, both tend to reveal similar patterns in criminal activity over time.
The FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs) are the most widely used and cited official measures of crime in the United States. The traditional UCR Summary Reporting System presents the number of criminal offenses known to police. The reported crime rate reflects only those offenses known as Part I crimes (violent crimes: murder, rape, robbery, and assault; property crimes: burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson). A host of other offenses (i.e., fraud, kidnapping, and drug offenses), known as Part II crimes, are not included in the computations and reported crime rates. The resulting crime rates, therefore, reflect only a portion of the offenses with which the formal criminal justice system comes into contact.
According to the 2017 UCR, there were more than 8.9 million index crimes. Of that number, more than 1.2 million were personal crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), and almost 7.7 million were property offenses (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2019a). This translates into 2,785 index crimes for every 100,000 people in the United States (also known as the “crime rate”). The corresponding crime rates for personal and property crime are 382.9 and 2,362.2, respectively.
The trend in violent and property crime since 1962 is shown in Figures 1.1
. Figure 1.1
illustrates that the 2017 violent crime rate has fallen to the levels around 1970. Thus, it is a true claim that violent crime is lower today than at any time in almost 50 years. Similar claims can be made about property crime, although the reference point would be between 1965 and 1968 (see Figure 1.2
). Figure 1.1
shows that the violent crime rate in 1962 was 162 offenses for every 100,000 persons. This was less than one-third of the rate in 1977 and roughly one-third of the rate in 1992. Similarly, the property crime rate in 1962 (1,858) was less than half of the 1971 rate and only about one-third of the 1980 property crime rate (Figure 1.2
). The recent violent crime figures
are still significantly higher than those of 45 years ago when society was lamenting the high crime it was facing. The property crime rate in 2017 is 27 percent higher than the rate in 1962, while the personal crime rate is roughly 136 percent higher. This suggests that those who point to the great strides made combating crime should be careful not to congratulate themselves too much.
Although the UCR shows a large number of crimes are committed in the United States, it still comes under fire from a variety of sources for underreporting the actual level of crime in the country. O’Brien (1985) points out that concerns over the way the data are collected and how the police learn about crime lead many to question the validity of the results. Foremost among the concerns is the question of whether the police records and reports provide an unbiased, complete view of crime in society. Popular wisdom would answer this question with a resounding “No!” Examination of the UCR reveals three major points at which the UCR can be inaccurately adjusted.
First, the UCR is a voluntary system of data collection and police departments and police officers can adjust the figures if they want. Departments can adjust the figures to enhance the image of their operation and/or their jurisdiction. It may be in the best interests ...