Crime in the United States of America in 2017 and the prison system

Crime in the United States of America in 2017 and the prison system

Source: FBI | U.S. government, U.S. Department of Justice
Freedom of Information/Privacy Act

When the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program began publishing federal crime data for 2015, the first report in the fall of 2016 promised a fluid process that was committed to finding ways to present federal crime data and expand on it yearly. Making good on that promise, this UCR Federal Crime Data report added additional data last year and framed the data to more closely fit the established UCR standard. Federal data presented this year expands again with additional data from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG).

The concept of offenses known was adopted in 1929 by the International Chiefs of Police as the data that would be collected in the UCR Program. The aim was to get a true sense of crime in the nation.

A few agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several agencies within the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), investigate in ways similar to local or state authorities. These federal agencies have long reported data to the UCR Program. However, other federal agencies, the FBI included, found it more difficult to fit into the UCR model. This annual report was originally designed as a stepping-stone to finding ways to provide a similar transparency and access to federal crime data the UCR Program has brought to local, state, and tribal crime data for nearly 90 years.

This year’s edition of Federal Crime Data moves closer to that goal. The arrest data from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the United States Marshals Service (USMS), and the DOJ OIG have all been mapped to correspond to the UCR’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) offense codes. This makes the overlay of federal data with local and state data much easier.

Additional Federal Data
Comparability of federal data to state and local data

All crime data create some concerns regarding comparability. In UCR Statistics: Their Proper Use, the UCR Program cautions “there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place.” It is important for users of UCR data, including federal data, to avoid drawing such simplistic conclusions as one area is safer than another or one agency is more or less efficient than another based solely on crime counts.

The best approach to viewing the federal data offered in this compilation is to use it to gain an overall impression of the intensity of certain types of offenses within a specific area by overlaying the federal arrests in conjunction with the local and state information. As developments in the data collection continue to occur, more details will become available from federal agencies, and these impressions will become more sharply focused.

Federal crime data are often different from local and state data, not only in their collection, but also in their generation. The UCR Program has built its traditional data collection on three triggering events common to local and state agencies. Offense information begins with either, first, a complaint of a victim/citizen or, second, the observation of a crime in progress by a law enforcement officer. A third trigger for data occurs when an arrest is made and information related to that occurrence is reported.

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Why federal numbers are smaller than those of other UCR agencies
As mentioned previously, federal investigations, by nature, often begin under different circumstances and proceed and conclude on different timeframes than investigations conducted by local and state agencies. Just as federal agencies often do not have traditional offenses known to report, they also typically do not have a number of offenses to report until a case has been built and an arrest or indictment has occurred. Perhaps most impactful on the federal numbers is the fact federal agencies often play a collaborative role with local and state agencies in crime investigations. Because the UCR Program has the “most local reporting” rule, which specifies the agency involved that is the most local jurisdiction should report the incident to the UCR Program, investigations and arrests that federal authorities have been involved with are often reported by city, county, state, or tribal agencies.

Why don’t the offenses in the tables match those presented in Crime in the United States?
Since its origination, this report’s aim has been to assimilate federal crime data into the UCR environment. UCR staff have been working since the beginning of this report series to align data from federal record keeping systems with the UCR model. Last year’s 2016 edition of Federal Crime Data accomplished that by mapping federal data to NIBRS offense codes. However, Crime in the United States currently presents UCR data using the older Summary Reporting System’s offenses. Going forward, as the entire UCR Program moves to NIBRS by 2021, the national UCR staff will continue to strive to make the presentation of federal data more wholly fit the standard of UCR.
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There were nearly as many people supervised under the U.S. adult correctional systems as the entire population of the state of Indiana, the 17th most populated state.

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