Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)

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The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) are the principal sources of crime data that United States of America apply in monitoring the degree, nature, and of crime in the region. UCR is a system used by the FBI in recording crime and making decisions and policies regarding such crimes. The system has been in operation since 1930 covering crimes of murder, robbery, burglary, assaults, and theft. The system started reporting crimes of arson in 1979. Currently, at least 17,000 law enforcement agencies report to FBI on UCR data (Rosenfeld, 2007). However, this data has limitations that make it unfit for analyses using the local crime system. As a result the FBI, in 1980’s, resulted into revising the UCR system so that data collection and analyses provides sufficient information regarding crime background.

Reports from UCR are considered by the FBI as officiated data, and are compiled annually in the Crime in the United States series. The FBI does not collect crime data rather law enforcement agencies across counties and the whole of the country provide data to FBI, which works to compile. UCR has become a critical source of crime information in US since 1930 where law enforcement, scholars, media, and policy makers rely on the report. The UCR system consists of four elements; the Traditional Summary Reporting System (SRS) and NIBRS, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Program (LEOKA), Hate Crime Statistics Program, and Cargo Theft Reporting Program (Rosenfeld, 2007). All these programs work in providing reports on crimes that fall under their category. On a monthly basis each program reports the number of crime index in its jurisdiction to the FBI. Mostly, this includes crimes reported to police by the public, those that police officers discover, or others known through reliable sources.

Data from UCR and NIBRS is gathered, systematically organized, and analyzed by different federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Crime data analysts then use this data in determining the nature and intensity of crime or law breaches (Addington, 2006).The data also analyzes the background of such breaches and crimes, and the personality or behavior of the offenders. Contrary to UCR, NIBRS holds a bigger capacity of information on variety f crimes committed in USA. The information contained under NIBRS is organized in a methodology that contrasts its operations with UCR.

While developing NIBRS, UCR managers provided law enforcement agencies with a uniform and standardized electronic blueprint for storage of data within individual recording management systems. The goal was to enhance the quality, quantity, and timeliness of collection of crime data, and also to improve on the methodology used in compiling, analyses, and publishing of the collected data and statistics. This has, however, been criticized on the effects it may have on incident-based crime reporting and crime statistics as a whole. In summary, UCR agencies only report serious index offense per incident of crime while NIBRS provide multiple-offence incident reporting.

A comparison of offences under UCR and NIBRS.

The traditional UCR reporting allowed law enforcing agencies to provide a tally of the number of occurrences of offenses classified as Part 1 offenses. These include murder, rape, larceny theft, robbery (commercial and person), burglary (both commercial and household), aggravated assault and arson. This data is further broken down to cover city, county, metropolitan region or the geographical region of occurrence. The traditional system also arrests and reports count for part II crimes that include fraud, embezzlement, suspicion, gambling, carrying and possessing weapons, vandalism, liquor law violation, drug trafficking, and other crimes that are not violent in nature. This categorization has since been replaced by NIBRS as Group A ad Group B offenses. This system contains information that categorizes 46 crimes as Group A, which represent twenty two different index crimes contrary to focusing on the eight crimes index classified as Part I offenses in UCR.

The group A index crimes under NIBRS are as listed below;

Forcible se or rape offenses

Homicide that includes negligent manslaughter, justifiable homicide, and non-negligent manslaughter

Assault that includes intimidation, aggravated assault, and simple assault


Larceny or theft



Theft of motor vehicle


Non forcible sex

Forgery and counterfeit

Damage or vandalism of property

Drug and narcotic offenses

Possession of obscene or pornographic material






Abduction and kidnaps

Possession of stolen property

Weapon law violations.

Group B, on the other hand, covers all criminal offenses not contained in Group A. These consists of disorderly conducts, curfew, drunkenness, bad checks, liquor law violations, trespass, driving under influence, runaways, nonviolent family offenses, and peeping tom, among others.

Incident versus summary based reporting.

Also referred as the traditional system based of reporting or the summary based reporting system, the UCR is based in tallying incidences for Part I and summing up crimes in both Part I and Par II categories. The implication is that the data in UCR contains of total crimes or the summary of the data of crimes reported from all police departments. Contrary to NIBRS, the unit of analyses of summary data in UCR is the ‘Group’. This implies that the reports can only be available for counties or cities, which are later summed up to determine the aggregate level of crime in the states or regions in USA. The cumulated data is them forwarded in form of a monthly summarized report to the FBI thereby the name summary reporting system (Akiyama & Nolan, 1999).

The limitation in this method of reporting is that it lacks a distinct description of defining the offenders, nature of crimes, and the victims, this mostly happens when criminal analysis is done with a focus on individual crimes, victims, and offenders as it is possible to sum up all individual units of analysis while it may not be possible to disaggregate grouped data to an individual level.

NIBRS, on the other hand, offers an effective system that collects data on unit crimes and arrests. It requires law enforcing agencies to submit an account of each criminal and arrests resulting from the crimes. Each offense, under this system, is categorized under incident, offender, property and arrestee, which is a summarized report of all elements in Group A category. The summarized report offers more details than when compared to reports from UCR, which are meaningful and detailed, and are of benefit to the local crime agencies (Addington, 2006). Armed with such an all inclusive criminal data these agencies deduce strong cases against crimes and criminals and serial law offenders, which many not be the case in UCR.

Individual rule versus hierarchy rule offense reporting.

Hierarchy rule was employed in UCR that is a classification of crimes that result into different measures of errors. Under this rule if a crime consists of more than one offense in a single occurrence or incident it is the most serious offense that is listed as the cause of the crime. For example, if a thief breaks into an office, steals various items, puts them in a vehicle belonging to the owner of the office, and hurts the owner in the process of defense, and drives off with the stolen items, the hierarchy rule will classify the crime as; nature of crime and according to Part I and II offense categorization. Under the latter the series of crimes involved are burglary or forced entry, theft, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault, and robbery with violence (Akiyama & Nolan, 1999). The rule streamlines these crimes into the category of robbery with violence as described in UCR. The rationale provided is that among all the other crimes committed robbery with dangerous weapon is the most outstanding or causes the other crimes. The ‘lesser’ offenses will not be accounted for in that year’s UCR report and this compromise the integrity of the reporting system.

Under NIBRS the hierarchy rule does not exist; law enforcement agencies are obliged to submit detailed summaries about all offenses committed in a single happening or crime incident. NIBRS defines n incident as all offenses committed by the same criminal or group of criminals at the same time and place (Addington, 2006). In each occurrence NIBRS collects a total of up to ten related offenses that include information about the criminal, any witness, nature of the crime, circumstances under which the crime took place, and known features or characteristics of the offender such as sex, race or age. If for example the case cited above was reported under NIBRS all information concerning its nature such as entry, the act of stealing, injuries caused, date, time, and location of the incident would have been reported. This assists in crime analysis through provision of complete information of an incident.

Methodology used in crime classification.

The Uniform Crime Report classifies crimes into two categories; crimes against persons and crimes against property. The former includes crimes such as murder, domestic violence, assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. The latter includes crimes such as robbery, burglary, vandalism, auto-theft, fraud, and larceny theft. Similarly, NIBRS distinguishes crimes against property and crimes against persons. However, NIBRS includes a third classification of crimes; crime against society. The creation of this category was intended to prohibit communities or people in engaging from behaviors considered as immoral (Akiyama & Nolan, 1999). It covers offenses such as drug violations, gambling, pornography, and prostitution, among other crimes that degenerate society morals. Under the NIBRS system these crimes are recorded as unit offense per distinct operation. They may also be referred as victimless crimes as they are not committed against an individual thereby cannot be categorized under crimes against persons or property.

Collection of information on weapons.

Both NIBRS and UCR collect information relevant to an offense that produces data, which is later provided for analysis. The difference is on the information levels or details of weapons used in an offense. For instance UCR only collects weapon information used for criminal offenses such as robbery, aggravated assault, and murder while NIBRS collects weapon information regarding offenses for all violent criminal offenses. The implication is that under CR some information on offenses committed using weapons is undetermined hence providing incomplete analysis on criminal levels in a region or county. Recording of all weapon information as is the case with NIBRS allows for creation of a comprehensive approach on analysis thereby producing detailed criminal reports that can be used in criminal policy formulations.

Data correlation.

Many crime investigations and analysts require drawing correlations between gathered information from various backgrounds sources or types. The limitation in UCR is that it lacks a mechanism for developing effective correlations on arrests, offenses, and victims. This system only enables data correlation on homicide incidents where it can correlate sex, race, and age of the offender to the age, race, or sex of the victim.

Under NIBRS system both implied and explicit linkages to a crime are used in calculating the correlation between the different data values or characteristics. Implicit linkages deduce linkages between all the victims and offenders in a criminal incident. This is so as in any incident any criminal directly or indirectly takes part in the commission of the offense. Explicit linkages are used in connecting data elements as offenses, offenders, property, victims, and arrestees connected to an incident. The availability of both implicit and explicit information under NIBRS system implies that law enforcement agencies can not only complicate relationships existing between offenders and victims, but can also determine the correlation between the relationships and criminal information (Poulsen & Kennedy, 2004). This is a function that lacks in the summary or traditional based reporting system.

Methodology used in determining victim-offender relationship.

Under UCR the relationship, for example if the victim was the father, son , wife, or husband, is reported only as homicide even. This is contrary to NIBRS where the victim-offender relationship is recorded under all crimes against person that includes assault, murder, robbery, kidnap, domestic violence, or aggravated assault (Rantala & Edwards, 2000). This relationship is also reported in robbery cases since the crime is an assault that renders it a violent crime.

Complete versus attempted crimes.

UCR lacks a mechanism for distinguishing between crimes completed and crimes that were not completed. This creates confusion as most incomplete or attempted crimes are reported as complete crimes. NIBRS, on the other hand, distinguishes between attempted and completed crimes by labeling either as ‘A’ that stands for attempted crime, or ‘C’ standing for complete crimes.

A comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of the methodologies used in UCR and NIBRS.

Both systems offer extensive data coverage from various geographical areas. This allows a data analysis on crime, and creates a platform to conclude on the crime status of USA. This assists in formulation of policies to be implemented by law enforcement agencies to lower down crime levels. The systems report the offenses in a criminal incident separately; this also boosts data collection on crimes and in analysis.

The systems focus on crimes committed against law enforcement agencies and professionals. For instance, crimes of aggravated assault, robbery and theft, weapon law violation, and homicide, amongst others are crimes against law enforcement professionals rather than to those offended. They affect the crime status of the region in which they are committed, and to the state in overall. Having data on such crimes allows implementation of systems that can boost elimination or setting up strict measure (Rantala & Edwards, 2000). The systems also offer standardized definitions of crime. UCR has been challenged by NIBRS under this perspective as its crime categories may sometimes conflict against each other. The NIBRS system has offered a remedy to this limitation by having standard definitions of crimes such as complete or attempted, and categories that mark the classifications of different crimes.

The two systems are, however, challenged on the use of hierarchy system in classifying crimes. Using this system implies reporting crimes considered as most serious, and overlooking crimes that do not lead to serious consequences (Rosenfeld, 2007). This affects data collected on crime levels bearing the fact that a high percentage of crimes do not have serious implications thereby are not incorporated in the data collected.

UCR reflects crime reports by police not later adjudication, and required municipalities to report data. This makes crime statistics under-reported in this system. The system reports crimes considered as serious on an incident (Rantala & Edwards, 2000). For example in a case of murder where the murdered raped a victim, the rape incident is overlooked by the system. This also makes it an under-report system. NIBRS, on the other hand, has been challenged on the fact that the system demands high levels of data entry so that all elements of data are considered. This implies high levels of investment that costs the taxpayers given that the system may not deliver the results intended as a result of related limitations. For example, the system ignores data that constitutes representative samples of a population, states, or law enforcers. This leads to measurement and reporting bias producing data that cannot be relied upon.

Implication of UCR and NIBRS.

The two systems have boosted the collection, categorization, and presentation of crime data and figures for the greater part of past century. The UCR system supported law organization and enforcement agencies in recording and compiling database that comprises of reliable crime statistics. The UCR system underwent changes of upgrade in early 21st Century, and is currently being replaced by a more detailed and comprehensive crime reporting system than what it previously incorporated (Rosenfeld, 2007). NIBRS is the new system that offers an effective crime reporting system, and is expected to prove to be a frontline weapon for law enforcers across the country with some revisions on its challenges. It has significantly expanded the ability of officers to record data on incidents, and this gives leaders a detailed understanding of crime. As a result, a mayor’s policy advisor, for example, can look at the data or combine it with data from other cities, analyze, and gain better and descriptive understanding of criminal activity in the city or community. It assists law enforcements gather evidence and develop effective practice and solutions.


Uniform Crime Reporting and the National Incident-Based Reporting System are the two main sources used in USA in accessing crime and criminal data. UCR was the first system, currently considered outdated, used in capturing and storing criminal records, but was replaced by a newer system (NIBRS) in 1989. There are a number of differences between how the tow systems operate but the most distinguishing factor between the two systems is UCR being a summary based reporting system while NIBRS reports incident level crimes. UCR collects crime data in a summarized format or in an aggregated form or in sum total methodology. This leads to overlooking individual characteristics and circumstances of criminal offenses. NIBRS was introduced to solve this issue where the system not only collects aggregated data but also provides an efficient methodology that maintains the significance of every discrete piece of information (Addington, 2006). The computerized database generated by this system assists criminal analysts, researchers, and law enforcement agencies in making crime related queries that can be assimilated in policy formulation.


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Akiyama, Y., & Nolan, J. (1999). Methods for understanding and analyzing NIBRS data.Journal of Quantitative Criminology,15(2), 225-238.

Poulsen, E., & Kennedy, L. W. (2004). Using dasymetric mapping for spatially aggregated crime data.Journal of Quantitative Criminology,20(3), 243-262.

Rantala, R. R., & Edwards, T. J. (2000).Effects of NIBRS on crime statistics. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Rosenfeld, R. (2007). Transfer the uniform crime reporting program from the FBI to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.Criminology & Public Policy,6(4), 825-833.