The long road towards modernising crime statistics (2)

Last week we published a post about the new classification of crimes proposed in the USA. Here we are going to reveal the main conclusions and proposals of the second report that has been published, in 2018, by the same group of experts about the system to quantify crime.

The new classification entails a change in the concept of ‘crime’ that is not based on people’s behaviour patterns rather than a legal definition. The objective is that, whatever the source used to gather the information, similar incidents are assigned the same category. For example, refraining from considering an incident to be ‘sexual assault’ in the survey (due to the conduct it motivates) and ‘sexual abuse’ in police data (because of the legal definition that regulates it). With this objective, the new inventory considerably increases the amount of categories and gathers facts that were previously not quantified.

Accordingly, a fundamental step towards discovering the differences between the incidents that are recorded in current statistics (both in police records and crime surveys) and the new classification: the typologies incorporated in some cases correspond to emerging factors, and in other cases it involves categories that are only now included in statistical data although they were already considered to be serious problems (such as acts against the environment or animals).

The proposal presented by the group does not consist of the creation of a system to gather and analyse completely new data; alternatively, it promotes the improvement and modification of current systems (both regarding police data and those from surveys), in order to adapt it the collection of data in the new categories. It also foresees the incorporation of sources of complementary information, especially for the added categories to the new classification and for those that may encounter difficulties when obtaining data.

Moreover, they remind us that neither can all sources of information gather the same data, nor is the same information about the crimes necessary. Accordingly, the system also has to be flexible to adapt to these differences.

The biggest emphasis is placed on the system for gathering police data, as it has evolved less over recent years than surveys, which have gone through more continuous processes of review and improvement. For the evolution towards the new system to be viable, the report proposes steady implementation of improvements as soon as possible, when minimum levels are achieved, and to continue perfecting these until an optimum level is reached.

The present system’s biggest drawback is that neither the FBI nor the BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics have a leading role in the gathering of data and their responsibilities are diluted. Consequently, there is no clear alignment regarding their sets of data. The authors demand that there be some nature of organism to provide this leadership and recommend that the Bureau should be responsible for the budget and for institutional management to explore and decide how coordination should be put into practice, and be responsible for this joint management, and also for the future review of the classification system.

To sum up, the intention is to go from a system that counts known crimes, principally based on crimes reported, to a system that gathers information about crime, with the intention that the statistical system allows for data analysis from different points of view (geographical, demographical, sociological and economic) and aims to provide more information than simply counting the number of criminal offences committed.

The complete reports can be consulted at:

Modernizing Crime Statistics

Report 1: Defining and Classifying Crime (2016)

Report 2: New Systems for Measuring Crime (2018)


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