Posts Tagged ‘crime statistics’

It’s been an incredibly busy couple of weeks, and I’ve fallen behind on almost everything, including my writing. But, today, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released their latest report on crime victimization (PDF), so I wanted to make note of that and share it with all of you.889385_71339437

The news isn’t particularly good, especially in terms of violent victimization rates, but it isn’t all bad either:

The rate of violent victimization increased from 22.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 2011 to 26.1 in 2012. Crime not reported to police and simple assault accounted for the majority of this increase. Violent victimizations not reported police increased from 10.8 per 1,000 persons in 2011 to 14.0 in 2012.

Although the report notes that this increase isn’t statistically significant, it does represent the second year in a row that the rate has increased. On the bright side, the rate of domestic violence did not increase, which is always a good thing.

Another positive to remember is that the current overall rate of victimization is drastically lower than the 80 victimizations per 1,000 persons from the early to mid-1990s.

Stay safe!

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If you’re an academic, student, or government staffer, you likely have access to some amazing professional databases chock full of articles you can consult when doing research or crafting criminal justice policies or legislation.

In the real world, we don’t have easy access to those types of information tools.

It’s not that we don’t need such tools – we do.  Too often, though, we’re stuck relying on media outlets to report information accurately (which they frequently don’t do) on criminal justice topics.  And, when it comes time to vote or debate on these topics, we need facts and figures, not anecdotes or sensationalized news stories rife with bias and inaccuracies.

So, here’s a list of 10 free, high-quality sources of data and research on a wide variety of criminal justice topics that offer anyone the chance to do their own independent research.

1. National Criminal Justice Reference Service  – An information source sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, this site has a wide range of current research articles on courts, corrections, policing, victims issues, and other areas. Not all articles are available as full text, but many are.

2. Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) – This is the FBI’s consolidation of crime information reported by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The data doesn’t cover all types of crime, and it can seem somewhat incomplete as a result. If you want to know, though, how many sexual assaults, robberies, or other serious offenses were reported to the police in a given year, however, you can quickly have that information at your fingertips.

3. Bureau of Justice Statistics – According to their website, their mission is “[t]o collect, analyze, publish, and disseminate information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government. These data are critical to federal, state, and local policymakers in combating crime and ensuring that justice is both efficient and evenhanded.”  They produce one of the important counterparts to the UCR above, the National Crime Victim Survey.

4. National Crime Victim Survey – This is the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report that uncovers what’s referred to as “the dark figure of crime.” These are offenses that are never reported to authorities, and therefore don’t show up in the Uniform Crime Reports. The BJS surveys a random sampling of households in the U.S. to gather this data, as opposed to relying on official law enforcement reports. The NCVS, therefore, provides a good counterpoint to the FBI’s dataset when investigating the prevalence – both reported and unreported – of a given type of crime.

5. National Institute of Justice (NIJ) – According to their website, the NIJ “is dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to reduce crime and promote justice, particularly at the state and local levels.” One of their aims is to use “Translational Criminology” as a way to bring research to bear on the real-world problems of the criminal justice system. They have over 4,000 articles in their database, many of which cover practical aspects of criminal justice issues.

6. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – According to their website, “[t]he Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) provides national leadership, coordination, and resources to prevent and respond to juvenile delinquency and victimization. OJJDP supports states and communities in their efforts to develop and implement effective and coordinated prevention and intervention programs and to improve the juvenile justice system so that it protects public safety, holds offenders accountable, and provides treatment and rehabilitative services tailored to the needs of juveniles and their families.”  Their database covers an array of juvenile justice issues, from child abuse to victim issues, and includes information on research, programs, and funding sources.

7. National Center for State Courts – According to their site, “The National Center for State Courts is an independent, nonprofit court improvement organization founded at the urging of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren E. Burger.” Their article database covers a wide range of court-related topics, including adoption, judicial administration, election law, and social media.

8. Index of U.S. Government Departments and Agencies – This site is less about specific research, and more of a tool to identify further leads for information. Every department or agency operated by the federal government is listed, including all of those dedicated to criminal justice matters.

9. DHS Daily Open Source Infrastructure Report – This page from the Department of Homeland Security is information “collected each business day as a summary of open-source published information concerning significant critical infrastructure issues.”  This isn’t research, per se, but it can be an interesting source of national-level information about threats to infrastructure from a wide variety of threats, both natural and man-made. There are some who use it as a way to identify stories for blog posts, for example, or as a source of leads for further research on issues not being covered in the mainstream press.

10. National Archive of Criminal Justice Data – This site is operated and maintained by the University of Michigan, and their mission is “to to facilitate research in criminal justice and criminology, through the preservation, enhancement, and sharing of computerized data resources; through the production of original research based on archived data; and through specialized training workshops in quantitative analysis of crime and justice data.”  In addition to research articles, they also provide access to datasets individuals can use to conduct their own analysis.

There are many other resources, and this is just a sampling of some of the more well known ones. What’s your favorite source of criminal justice info? Comment and share a link below.

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Heuristic devices, sometimes referred to as “rules of thumb,” are a common way to manage the complexities of daily life. They allow simple information or short-cuts to stand-in for more complex concepts, and they are invaluable in that sense.

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For example, we don’t need to know anything about an area’s zoning laws, planning principles, cultural history, product distribution networks, or economic philosophy to locate and shop at a grocery store. The fact that a business is labeled as a “grocery store” gives us most, if not all, the information we need.

Such short-cuts make life simpler and easier to navigate…for the most part. 

When it comes to some concepts, simple is not always better or even accurate. This is especially true of the over-simplifications we too often see in the reporting of crime data. For example, CQ Press releases an annual list of U.S. cities ranked by crime rate. While their methodology appears sound (it’s essentially a comparison of crime rates per 100,000 citizens), there are limitations to their approach.

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CQ Press Crime Rankings for 2010-2011

As this article points out, interpreting the meaning of a city’s ranking based on crime rate can be misleading. Other factors are at play, such as population density and differences in geography or demographics, which can skew the meaning of a ranking based on crime rate alone.

Other criminologists have pointed out that these types of  crime rankings are often ‘baseless’ due to the inability of a statistic like crime rate to account for rapid fluctuations in the population of a localized area, such as small cities that are actually part of a much larger metropolitan region.  The official population is artificially low relative to the number of people who actually frequent the area from nearby. This, in turn, could artificially inflate the crime rate calculation.

We should interpret such rankings, then, with caution and gather additional information before making decisions about where to live, work, shop, or play based solely on a reported crime rate.

The other take-away is to be careful with heuristics. In general, they can be a helpful guide, but they are not a replacement for thoughtful consideration when it comes to things like crime statistics.

It often pays in those cases to ignore the heuristic benefit of a simplistic ranking and look a little closer at the actual meaning that lies underneath the data.