To derive statistics about crime – to estimate its levels and trends, assess its costs to and impacts on society, and inform law enforcement approaches to prevent it – a conceptual framework for defining and thinking about crime is virtually a prerequisite. Developing and maintaining such a framework is no easy task, because the mechanics of crime are ever evolving and shifting: tied to shifts and development in technology, society, and legislation.
After some decades of preliminary work (notably, prisoners’ offenses being tallied in the 1850 and subsequent decennial censuses), the collection of nationwide crime statistics began in earnest in the 1920s. A committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued a manual on the collection of “uniform” crime records in 1929, focusing attention on the crimes that were deemed to be most consistently defined across state laws as well as most publicly visible. That 1929 manual was subsequently used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in establishing its Uniform Crime Reporting program, based on voluntary submissions from local law enforcement. However, it also marks the last time that the whole enterprise of U.S. crime statistics collection was assessed and its conceptual backdrop reviewed; many of the same concepts and definitions outlined in 1929 carried over to the National Crime Victimization Survey (of the Bureau of Justice Statistics) in the 1970s and to other collections, and remain in place today.
The key distinction between the rigorous classification proposed in this report and the “classifications” that have come before in U.S. crime statistics is that it is not a simple exercise in labeling. It is a conceptual framework intended for statistical purposes, partitioning the entirety of behaviors that could be considered criminal offenses into mutually exclusive categories. Modernizing Crime Statistics—Report 1 considers a wide variety of data user and stakeholder perspectives, and examples of historical and international classification systems, in suggesting a taxonomy and an accompanying set of attributes to be collected on crime incidents.
Sponsors: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, and Federal Bureau of Investigation