Every year more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies send crime data to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. Annual UCR reports help shape law enforcement policies, practices, and budgets. CompStat is another data-based program that is gaining popularity. Police training programs need to cover both of these data-collection systems.
During your police training, you’ll learn how to use a host of practical tools associated with public safety, such as handcuffs, restraints, and fingerprint kits. But you’ll also need to become familiar with two unlikely tools—statistics and definitions—that are helping police fight crime in an FBI program called Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). You’ll also need to know about CompStat, a data-based management tool that’s gaining popularity with police departments.
There are three reasons why trainees need to know about UCR. First, most agencies (and very likely including the one you work for) regularly send UCR data to the FBI. Second, UCR reports help shape law enforcement policies, practices, and funding. Third—and most relevant to police trainees—the free UCR users’ manual published on the FBI website is a valuable training tool. (You can download your own copy at this link: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/nibrs/summary-reporting-system-srs-user-manual.)
According to the UCR website, “The program was conceived in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police to meet the need for reliable uniform crime statistics for the nation. In 1930, the FBI was tasked with collecting, publishing, and archiving those statistics.” Every year the UCR program publishes four statistical reports: Crime in the United States, National Incident-Based Reporting System, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, and Hate Crime Statistics.
Data comes from over 18,000 agencies in cities, college and university campuses, counties, states, along with tribal and federal law enforcement agencies. FBI policy makes data submission voluntary, but a number of states require agencies to participate in UCR data collection.
For police trainees, the key word in Uniform Crime Reporting is “uniform”—which does not refer to the distinctive blue or black pants and shirts that many officers wear on duty. “Uniform” in this context means consistent. How can the FBI ensure that all 18,000 agencies are using the same definitions for the crime data they are submitting?
The answer is that the UCR provides carefully constructed definitions for each criminal category. Although the target audience is the administrators who submit data, these definitions are an excellent training tool. Equally useful are the scenarios in the manual. After you read the definition for a crime, you can read scenarios to ensure that you understand, for example, the differences between “Murder and Non-negligent Manslaughter “ and “Manslaughter by Negligence.”
The UCR manual for users includes Part I offenses, which are violent and property crimes, and Part II offenses, which include simple assault, curfew offenses and loitering, embezzlement, forgery and counterfeiting, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drug offenses, fraud, gambling, liquor offenses, offenses against the family, prostitution, public drunkenness, runaways, sex offenses, stolen property, vandalism, vagrancy, and weapons offenses.
Not as widely used but gaining popularity is CompStat (short for “Computer Statistics”), a polilce management tool developed by the New York Police Department (NYPD) in 1994 under the leadership of Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. (In 1996 he left the NYPD to become Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, but now he is back in New York.)
CompStat uses a data-driven strategy called “crime mapping” to identify trouble spots and deploy police resources. Agency leaders meet regularly to foster cooperation, communication, and accountability and to share ideas about fighting crime. CompStat has been adopted by police departments in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Austin, San Juan, San Francisco, Oakland, New Haven, and Baltimore.
In future years it seems likely that more agencies will incorporate elements of CompStat into their management practices. And we can expect UCR data to continue to shape law enforcement policies as new challenges emerge and technology becomes increasingly important to police work.