Statistical Methods of Measuring Crime in the United States

In order to shed light on the level of crime in a certain country, area, or period, the application of statistical methods is inevitable. There are different statistical methods which governments, communities and individual use to measure different aspects of crime, according to several factors. Although the conducted research and published statistical data is often influenced by corporate and political agendas, this information is necessary in terms of outlining the trends that can help the governments understand crime on national and local level.

The two statistical methods administered by the U.S. Department of Justice for the purpose of measuring the nature, magnitude, and impact of crime are: UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) Program and the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey). Both programs result with valuable data that gives insight into the crime rates on national level. The UCR Program, conducted by the FBI, collects information on murder and non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, rape, robbery, and arson. The National Crime Victimization Survey is necessary for measuring crime that has not been reported to the police.

The FBI publishes Uniform Crime reports on yearly basis. The statistical data in these reports contributes towards identifying trends in particular crimes over time. In addition, the reports are useful in comparing the level of crime between different areas in the USA. The data for this program is collected from individual crime incident records or monthly law enforcement reports that are transmitted to the FBI directly or through centralized state agencies. Although this statistical data is necessary for measuring crime on national level, it is not a completely valid sign of the true extent of crime.

The reality of crime is unlikely to be recorded, due to the existence of the “dark figure” of crime, which cannot be measured by official authorities (Coleman and Moynihan, 1996). Thus, the statistical data provided in the National Crime Victimization Survey is necessary for providing a more detailed picture of crime trends, victims, and incidents. The Bureau of Justice Statistics collects detailed information on the nature and extent of different types of crime, including theft, household burglary, sexual assault, aggravated and simple assault, and personal robbery. This Survey does not process information on commercial crimes and homicide.

The UCR and NCVS programs employ different statistical methods and provide different definitions for some types of crime. Thus, the data that results from the two programs may show clear discrepancies. With better understanding of both programs, the government can gain better understanding of the trends and nature of crime in the USA.