Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Understanding the Uniform Crime Reporting System

Definitions of crime can vary from state to state making seemingly clear statistics on criminal behavior more ambiguous. For example: the definition for forcible rape could vary regarding what sexual acts are included or what age groups. Some states consider an act of forcible rape only if the act involves penetration; whereas other states include other types of sexual contact (i.e. forced oral sex) to be considered forced rape. In Massachusetts forcible rape is described as “sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse with a person, and compels such person to submit by force and against his will, or compels such person to submit by threat of bodily injury… in a variety of different settings  such as under 16, over 16, incapacitated, etc (The Common Wealth of Massachusetts, 2015).  While in Michigan the law defines forcible rape more broadly as “The carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and against his/her will, or where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity” (Michigan/Gov, 2015).

Because these definitions vary reporting inconsistencies that can offset crime rate interpretations dramatically. For example: Having forcible rape divided into so many sections and separated from other type of sex crimes, as done in Massachusetts, can lead one to believe forcible rape happens less frequently than it actually does. Reportedly this is also the case in Michigan (Kilpatrick & Juggiero, 2003). In Michigan the forcible rape definition does not include many types of sexual assault that also happen, but do not fall under the force category, such as statutory rape (Kilpatrick & Juggiero, 2003). In these type sexual assault cases the victim was below the age of consent regardless of consensual practices and/or the act of force. Statutory rape is not covered under forcible rape because the age of consent is the qualifier rather than the application of force (Kilpatrick & Juggiero, 2003). Because the conviction is of a different sex crime (statutory rape vs. forcible rape) it is not included in the forcible rape category, even if force is used, thus there is the illusion that forcible rape happens less frequently than it does.

Uniformed Crime Reports

In order to generate reliable crime statistics for the United States a Uniform Crime Reporting program was designed and implemented in the 1930’s. Essentially the Uniform Crime Reporting program provides police agencies with a Summary Reporting System (SRS) that provides uniform reporting definitions [of crime] and scoring procedures for the nation. This allowed for crimes rates and comparable statistics to be generated for each state without actually changing state definitions of crime. Today over 18,000 city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies voluntarily participate in the Summary Reporting Systems (SRS). This accounts for 95% of our nation’s city, university/college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Reporting Procedures

Because of jurisdiction variances in the definition of crime participating state agencies are required to classify crimes using the uniform definitions and scoring procedures provided by the FBI (FBI, 2015). Crimes reported to the UCRS are first divided by the type of crime, either violent crimes or property crimes (UCR, 2009). Violent crimes include murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (UCR, 2009).  Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson (UCR, 2009).  Additionally, crimes reported through the original summary reporting system are reported according to a hierarchy rule that mandates when an arrest includes multiple offences only the most serious crime is reported (UCR, 2009). Meaning that, if a rape and murder occur together only the murder will be reported because it is the more serious offence. Using the FBI’s provided uniform definitions and scoring procedures, including meeting submission standards, definitions, specifications, and deadlines, is essential to accurate reporting (UCR, 2009). Accurate crime rate information is important because it allows us to understand what the most prevalent crimes in the area are. Understanding what crimes are committed most frequently allows us to narrow the focal of social policy and policing efforts in attempt to eradicate the problem efficiently.

Reliability Concerns 

As with all statistics, the UCR statistics are only reliable as the methods used to collect and interpret them. And some issues of reliability with the original Summary Reporting System have been reported (Jones and Bartlett, 2013). For example: because there no laws or mandates that require states agencies to participate in the UCR about 5% of agencies do not report crime statistics (UCR, 2009). Furthermore, “because of computer problems, changes in records management systems, personnel shortages, or any number of other reasons”, some agencies cannot provide a complete data set each year of publications (UCR, 2009). Therefore some incomplete data may be have estimated (UCR, 2009). Lastly, the hierarchy rule used in the old reporting index “over shadows the true numbers of crimes committed” (UCR, 2009). Even still, the FBI has several procedures in place that ensure the accuracy of the statistics reported the UCR (FBI, 2015). This includes providing participating agencies with sufficient data qualifications and procedural instruction on how to complete the submissions properly (FBI, 2015). Additionally, the FBI is especially careful to review UCR data for reasonableness and reliability before it disseminates information considered influential in nature (FBI, 2015).


The FBI also has polices in place to improve the statistics generated in the future (FBI, 2015). A newer system, National Incident Based Reporting System, collects even more information on crime and has since eliminated the hierarchy rule (UCR, 2009). Furthermore, as of 2013, all submissions are to be made electronically and agencies are being urged to transition to the NIBRS as quickly as possible (UCR, 2009). Accordingly, officials who report will need to use computers that are software compatible, change record management systems, and dedicate personnel to provide data for publication. This makes the conversion costly to underfunded agencies that are already over budget and understaffed (UCR, 2009). Although the transition from the SYS to the NIBRS has taken a long time, as of 2011 thirty two states programs are certified to classify and report crime using the National Incident Based Reporting System and 15 states report exclusively through the NIBRS (UCR, 2009). Interestingly, Massachusetts was one of the first of fifty states to start using the “National Incident Based Reporting System" (Mass.Gov, 2015).

Pros and Cons

The pros of using the uniform crime reporting system and yearly reports include obtaining reasonable measures of criminal activity in and around the nation. Having these statistics is helpful in determining where funding is needed to go, what type of special training is needed for police personnel, what the current crime trends are and how crime affects communities differently (UCR, 2009). With the new reports that include a wide variety of statistics on crime police can also establish relationships between crime and other factors, such as poverty, substandard housing, and unemployment (Miller, 2014). New technological powers include the ability to use information gathered on previous crimes in an algorithm to predict where new crimes might begin happening (Miller, 2014). This allows safety officials to take a proactive step at preventing crime rather than employing traditional reactive policing, such as patrolling where crimes were previously committed (Miller, 2014). One such example of successful predictive policing using statistical analysis was done in Indio, California. Here the police used statistical data to predict where burglaries were going to occur in advance (Miller, 2014). Indio police saw an 8 percent decline in burglaries within the first nine months of its establishment (Miller, 2014).

The cons of Uniformed Crime Reports are that often people use statistics inaccurately, such as to evaluate an agencies efficiencies in matters pertaining to crime reduction (UCR, 2009). These misrepresentations of the statistics create inaccurate pictures of efficiency because they do not consider other factors that affect crime rates besides the agencies efficiency, such as changes in economy, opportunity, jurisdictions or definitions of crime (UCR, 2009). In example: In 2011, the UCR Program changed its SRS definition of rape from “forcible rape”, defined as, “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” to rape (UCR, 2009). The new definition defines “rape” as:  "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim" (UCR, 2009). Now rapes by force and attempts or assaults to rape, regardless of the age or sex of the victim, are included (FBI, 2015). Because previous definition did not include rapes committed against men, or children this will likely show an increase in the rapes reported after 2013. However, it does not actually reflect an increase in rape crime, it reflects using broader definition of crime that includes more types of rapes in the statistic.

Comparing the UCR statistics, from 1970 to 2012, in a chart allows public safety officials the ability to present trends in crime more clearly as well as make predictions on future trends. Just from reading the reported data for 2012 you could tell the reported national rate of rape crime was 26.9 per 100,000 persons, which is much higher than the rate of 18.7 reported in 1970 (UCR, 2015). And if you saw these statistics on paper alone you might think that rape crime is on the rise. However, when one compares and presents the individual rates for each year in a chart the UCR data indicates the amounts of rapes reported nationally has steadily declined since 2004.

Using the UCR Data tool, provided by the FBI, interested parties can also compare multiple jurisdictions to present information about crime activity to others. When used like this one can see variances and similarities in both city, state, and national levels of crime. In this example you can see the rate of rape in Massachusetts has only been on a declining trend for the last three years, whereas Abington has been on a decline since 2008. But, both are closely follow the national trend in decline with only a few exceptions of increased rape crime activity on the city level.

Analyze Crime Rates

The UCR (1950) archives indicate that the amount of rapes reported in the year of 1949 was 2428 (p. 56). Of those 80% were cleared for prosecution with a conviction rate was 61% andan expected punishment over 150 days in jail (UCR, 1950, p.58). The UCR indicates that in 1950 rape crime trends in urban areas declined by 4.6 %, but increased by 4.8 in rural areas (UCR, 1950). Even still the rate or rape was 6.03 in urban areas and 6.00 in rural areas (UCR, 1950). Unfortunately in the 1970’s, the arrest, conviction and punishment rates for rape as well as other crime declined (Reynolds, 1995). Subsequently the amount of rapes increased quite steadily, with only a few recessions, until 2004.

In 2013, the nationally reported data indicated 79,770 rapes were reported (FBI, 2015). The rate of rapes was estimated at 25.2 per 100,000 females –an estimated 6.3 percent lower than the 2012 (FBI, 2015). Today’s rape statistics indicate that for every 100 Rapes that happen only 46% will be reported, 12% will lead to an arrest, 9% will be prosecuted, 5% will lead to a felony conviction, but only 3% of rapists will get jail time (UMass, 2015). If an additional 46% of those 79,770 rapes were actually committed, as estimated by most national rape advocates, the actual total of rapes committed against females in 2013 would be as high as 116,464. Furthermore, of those rapes 79,770 reported only 9572 arrest were made, 861 were prosecuted, 43 convicted of a crime, and fewer than 2 served jail time.

Forecasting Crime

Though the numbers indicate the rate of rape is on decline in the United States, Massachusetts, and Abington, the numbers from 1950 to now indicate a significant increase in the rate of rapes reported that correlates with the decline in arrest and convictions (Reynolds, 1995). Additionally, from the comparisons above we saw that crime rate is somewhat relative to the probability of punishment for the crime (Reynolds, 1995). The statistics indicated only three percent chance of arrest, conviction and significant punishment for the crime of rape in the United States (UMass, 2014). Furthermore, there is over a fifty percent chance that the rape will not be reported (UMass, 2014). Therefore, from the statistical information we can infer there is little to deter a rapist from raping. Bearing all these facts in minds, I predict that the rate of rape in Abington and Massachusetts will presumably continue to follow the national downward trend, so long as we continually increase the amount of arrest and convictions made. However, if we do not increase the arrest and convictions rates I suspect the rate of rape will decline very, very slowly with possible rebounds of high numbers. To see a faster decline in the rate of rape we need to increase the rate of reporting by victims. This would allow for timely evidence collection, increased suspect apprehension and convictions as well as decreases in the rate of rape nationally.








Kilpatrick, D. G. & Juggiero, K. J. (2003). Rape in Michigan: One in Seven. Violence Against Women Prevention Research. Retrieved from’

Mass.Gov. (2015). State Police Crime Reporting Unit. The Official Website of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Retrieved from

Michigan.Gov. (2015). Michigan Incident Crime Reporting. Michigan State Police. Retrieved from

National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. (2015). National Incident Based Reporting System. The National Institute of Justice. Retrieved from

The Common Wealth of Massachusetts. (2105). General Laws: Rape. General Court. Retrieved from