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Expanding Police Ability to Report Crime: The National Incident-Based Reporting System

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2009
2 pages
This paper explains the rationale for and the impact of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which involved a revision of the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the FBI's widely used system for recording crimes and making policy decisions since 1930.
Since its inception, the UCR, has tracked data on seven crimes: murder, robbery, rape, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, and vehicle theft. In 1979, the UCR began reporting on arson. Currently, nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies report UCR data to the FBI. UCR data, however, have several limitations that impair their use in analyzing local crime; for example, the UCR does not provide specific information on each incident, such as location, characteristics of the victim and offender, and injuries they received. In addition, if multiple crimes occur at the same scene, only the most serious is recorded. Also, the UCR does not allow police to report whether an arrest was made at the crime scene. Largely because of these limitations of the UCR system, the FBI began to revise the system in the 1980s. The result was the NIBRS, which enhances UCR data by enabling descriptions of details about 46 types of criminal activity. Officers can record information about each incident, including details on victim and offender characteristics, features of each crime that occurred at the scene, and whether an arrest was made. Due to the addition of such data for official crime reporting, a police executive or a mayor's policy adviser can look at NIBRS data alone or combine them with other citywide data, analyze them, and obtain a more comprehensive view of criminal activity in the community. Researchers have successfully used NIBRS data to assess dual arrest data and examine drug distribution. As of 2004, NIBRS data have been supplied to the FBI by 5,271 law enforcement agencies that represent approximately 20 percent of the total U.S. population. 1 table and 3 notes

Date Published: July 1, 2009