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Measurement Error in Calls-For-Service as an Indicator of Crime

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 35 Issue: 4 Dated: (November 1997) Pages: 705-726
Date Published
22 pages

Data from an observational study of policing in 60 neighborhoods were used to examine the limitations of the use of calls for service to police 911 centers to measure crime at the address, neighborhood, and city level.


The analysis used data from the 1977 Police Services Study. The results revealed that calls-for-service records substantially undercount the amount of crime that police officers encounter on patrol and indicated that data from the Uniform Crime Reports have a heretofore unrecognized advantage over data on calls for service. In addition, remarkable variability existed across crime types in the discrepancies between dispatch crime counts and crimes that police officers encountered. Finally, errors in calls-for-service crime counts varied systematically across space. Findings indicated that future research on calls for service should focus on at least five lines of inquiry. While calls-for-service data provide an innovative approach to the measurement of crime, criminologists should use considerable caution in considering this crime indicator. Tables and 29 references (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1997