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Department of Justice's Efforts to Compile State Crime Statistics

NCJ Number
L Dodge
Date Published
19 pages
The GAO studied two Department of Justice agencies which routinely report state crime statistics and found that, for the foreseeable future, important discrepancies will remain between the agencies' ability to collect crime data and interpret these data in a standardized fashion.
Two Department of Justice agencies -- the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -- routinely collect, analyze, and report state crime statistics. In studying these two agencies, the GAO found that using BJS and FBI statistics on the level of reported crime without making adjustments for differences in how the statistics are constructed can lead to inconsistent conclusions. For example, the BJS National Crime Survey (NCS) and the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) were compared to study their data on reported crime from 1979 to 1988. Both programs showed similar trends in crime thru 1984; thereafter, however, the NCS data showed that reported crime increased by 4 percent through 1988, while UCR data reported an increase of more than 17 percent. Differences between the two could be due to a number of factors: variation in the crimes captured, conflicting data data collection methodologies, incorrect data entry, and so on. The GAO also found that problems exist with the quality, completeness, and consistency of state criminal history systems, thereby limiting their usefulness. Because such information plays an important role in making law enforcement decisions, faulty data could compromise criminal justice policies and decisionmaking. Compounding these problems is an inadequate automation capability in many state criminal records repositories which precludes the efficient collection of state crime data by the Department of Justice. These problems are long-standing, and little headway is expected to be made soon. The use of unreliable data raises two important questions about federal efforts to improve state crime data concerning what can be done to forge a consensus on reliable state data for measuring crime, and what role would federal funding play in improving automated data collection and reporting at the state level.