UCR Program Continues to Adapt, Evolve
November 1, 2011
Originally published in the September 2011 edition of the CJIS Link, Volume 13, Number 3
For more than 80 years the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program has been a gauge of crime in the Nation. But as someone once said, “The only constant is change.” This article describes some of the changes that have occurred in the long history of the UCR Program, and changes yet to come.
When it was conceived in 1930, the UCR Program collected stats on crimes voluntarily reported, such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, from law enforcement agencies throughout the Nation. While the core crimes collected by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program remains much the same, from time to time the program has changed to meet the needs of customers who want to understand the scope of crime in America. For example, the UCR Program added arson data to its collection in 1979, and, since 1989, even more specific crime details can be extracted from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a system that was implemented during that time.
Cargo Theft data collection underway
Following updates to its NIBRS software, the FBI began accepting test data via the NIBRS for cargo theft beginning in early 2010. (Cargo Theft was added to the list of crimes reported to the UCR Program with the passage of the USA Patriot Improvement and Re-authorization Act of 2005. Congress directed that the UCR Program to collect information on cargo theft “to capture the essence of the national cargo theft crime problem and its negative effect on the United States economy.”) Local or state agencies that want to update their software to include cargo theft should see the NIBRS Addendum for Submitting Cargo Theft Data (January 2010) at fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr.
Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted
While the UCR Program began collecting information on law enforcement officers killed in 1937, the development of the Analysis of “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” form in the early 1970s allowed the UCR Program to collect more specifics about the events in which officers are killed or assaulted. Now, not only has this form changed, but has been split into two separate forms. Since January 2011, law enforcement agencies have had the opportunity to report more detailed information by submitting the “Analysis of Officers Accidentally Killed” and the “Analysis of Officers Feloniously Killed and Assaulted.”
Hate Crime Statistics
With the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, the UCR Program began collecting data about crimes based on prejudice against race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Changes have continued to improve the program. In 1994, bias against persons with disabilities was added to the act. Two bias-motivated murders that occured in 1998 are leading to more changes in the Hate Crime Statistics Program in the near future.
Matthew Shepard was a 21-year-old gay student who was tortured and murdered in October 1998. James Byrd, Jr., was a 49-year-old African-American who was murdered by three white men who beat him and then dragged him to death behind a pick-up truck in June 1998. In response to these murders, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act in 2009, which added biases because of gender and gender identity, as well as the directive to collect data on crimes committed by and crimes directed against juveniles. The FBI is making plans to implement the collection of these data.
The President signed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in 2008, a law requiring the FBI to implement the collection of human trafficking data. With input from law enforcement members that are part of the CJIS Division’s Advisory Process, the UCR Program has been developing specific definitions and data collection guidelines for these offenses. Program staff members intend to begin collecting human trafficking data in January 2013.
Using the data
In the 1930s, UCR data were first distributed in monthly pamphlets, then a few years later, quarterly. At the time of World War II, it was produced semiannually, before becoming an annual publication in 1958. Today, the hardcopies are gone and UCR publications (including Crime in the United States, Hate Crime Statistics, and Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted) are presented on the FBI’s Web site at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr. In addition, in November 2010, the UCR Program went live with the UCR Data Tool, www.ucrdatatool.gov, which allows researchers to build their own custom tables of data. The Data Tool provides offense data for the Nation from 1960 through 2010, the most recent year for which the data are available. It also supplies offense data for city agencies 10,000 and over in population and county agencies 25,000 and over in population.
Looking to the future
With all of that, some of the biggest changes are yet to occur. To make better use of the technology available today, the UCR Redevelopment Project (UCRRP) team is in the process of redesigning the system that has supported the program for more than 30 years. A major focus of the UCRRP is to transfer all UCR submissions to an electronic interface by 2013. As part of this process, paper submissions and Portable Document Format files will no longer be accepted at that time. (UCRRP staff will be contacting state UCR Program managers and direct contributors currently submitting data on paper to ensure that each state is ready for paperless submissions in 2013.)
Since the beginning, the UCR Program has been willing to adapt and evolve to share information and meet the needs of law enforcement officers, government officials, students, reporters, and the public. That is the one constant about UCR that will never change. For more information, visit UCR page. For questions, .