NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Crime Statistics Questioned

December 3, 1998

Criminal justice experts are warning that crime statistics are unreliable. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently dropped Philadelphia from its national crime reporting program. And a decade ago, it dropped the entire states of Florida and Kentucky.

What are the problems?

  • Critics have accused the police of failing to take written reports of all crimes or of downgrading reports to less serious offenses.
  • Meanwhile, some police reports over-rate the seriousness of an offense.
  • Even if they were not intentionally undercounting or overcounting crime, no two agencies classify crime in exactly the same way, experts report.

It has been suggested that crime data be subjected to independent audit by public accounting firms. They have the credibility and staff needed to ensure accuracy, proponents contend. Crime- counting standards could be set nationally by the accounting profession with the FBI.

More accurate information would reveal which crime-fighting innovations and practices work and which do not. In that way, the audits themselves would become valuable crime-fighting tools.

Source: Lawrence W. Sherman (University of Maryland), "Needed: Better Ways to Count Crooks," Wall Street Journal, December 3, 1998.


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