When asked about their top concerns for their country, Americans have consistently rated crime as a significant concern. Anyone who has been a victim of even a minor crime can attest to the impact it has on his or her life, both emotionally and in terms of time and inconvenience dealing with the aftermath. To reduce crime and the impact it has on individuals and society, criminologists must be able to measure and understand it. Without an organized means of recording information about crimes that have occurred, law enforcement agencies would not have the benefit of social science research in determining who is likely to be victimized so they can provide protection, who is likely to become an offender so they can provide alternatives, and where crime is most likely to occur so they can increase patrol.
In the United States, there are three main systems in place to measure and track crime. The Uniform Crime Reports and the National Incident-Based Reporting System use police report data to determine the scope of crime within particular areas and to provide detail about individual criminal incidents. The National Crime Victimization Survey measures crime on the basis of interviews in which people are asked about their experiences with crime. Each of these systems has been carefully constructed and modified over time to increase detection and improve the amount and depth of information that is collected.
This research paper describes each of these three crime databases. It provides information about how data are collected and discusses what types of crimes might be missed, as well as any issues with the quality or use of the data. It also compares the three systems in terms of their ability to detect crime and in the types of uses to which they may be best suited.