BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Crime and Justice in the United States
and in England and Wales, 1981-96

Police recording of crime


Robbery:  Police reported

Assault: Police reported

Burglary: Police reported

Motor vehicle theft: Police reported

To the chart data

Notes on figures 15-18: To make police data comparable to data from victim surveys, crimes were eliminated from police data that were outside the scope of the specific crimes investigated in victim surveys (such as those against persons under 12 in the United States and under 16 in England). The number of serious crimes recorded by police during the year (based on estimates from police recorded crime data, adjusted to exclude crimes that are outside the scope of victim surveys) divided by the number reported to police that year (based on crime victimization surveys) gives the "Percent recorded by police." Crime definitions for the graphics are given in Notes on figures 1-4.

The level of crime recorded in police statistics depends not only on how often victims report crimes to police, but also on how often police record as crimes the incidents that are reported to them. Police do not always record as a crime every allegation that comes to them. Sometimes police find insufficient evidence that a crime has occurred. Alleged crimes go unrecorded because of poor record keeping. Police also weed out crimes they do not consider to be serious.

Comparison of the volume of crime that victims said they reported to police during the year with the volume that police actually recorded that year reveals how often police record as crimes those incidents that come to their attention.

Are police more likely to record crimes in the United States or England (including Wales)?

  • Compared to police in England, police in the United States more often record as crimes those alleged offenses that are reported to them.

    According to 1995 statistics, of all --

    • robberies reported to police, 78% of U.S. robberies were recorded as robberies in police statistics, compared to 35% of English robberies (figure 15)
    • assaults reported to police, virtually all U.S. assaults were recorded as assaults in police statistics, compared to 53% of English assaults (figure 16)
    • burglaries reported to police, 72% of U.S. burglaries were officially recorded by police, compared to 55% of English burglaries (figure 17)
    • motor vehicle thefts reported to police, virtually all U.S. vehicle thefts were officially recorded in police statistics, compared to 83% of English vehicle thefts (figure 18).

    Are police today recording more of the violent crime that comes to their attention?

  • A growing fraction of the violent crime reported to police is being officially recorded in both the United States and England.

    From 1981 to 1995, the percentage of reported crimes that were officially recorded in police statistics --

    • rose from 65% to 78% for U.S. robberies, and from 24% to 35% for English robberies (figure 15)
    • rose from 61% to virtually 100% for U.S. assaults, and from 41% to 53% for English assaults (figure 16).

    Are police today recording more of the property crime that comes to their attention?

  • A growing fraction of the burglaries reported to police are being officially recorded in the United States. In England, the trend is in the opposite direction, with a progressively smaller percentage of property crimes being officially recorded since 1981.

    From 1981 to 1995, the percentage of reported crimes that were officially counted in police statistics --

    • rose from 58% to 72% for U.S. burglaries, but fell from 70% to 55% for English burglaries (figure 17)
    • remained at around 95% for U.S. motor vehicle thefts, but fell from virtually 100% to 83% for English motor vehicle thefts (figure 18).

    In both England and the United States, police are recording a growing fraction of the violent crimes (robberies and assaults) reported to them. U.S. police recorded 63% in 1981 and 93% in 1995. English police recorded 37% in 1981 and 46% in 1995, bringing England in 1995 to about the level the United States was in 1973 (44%). What changes in policing might explain the trend in both countries toward more complete recording and more formal handling of violent crimes that come to police attention?

    1. Police have become more professional.
    2. Police operations have become more computerized.
    3. Calls to police are increasingly being electronically recorded, creating an audit trail. Consequently, police are keeping closer track of responses to calls.
    4. Police have become increasingly responsive to demands that domestic violence be handled more formally and be treated more seriously. In the United States, for example, a growing number of States now mandate arrests in all domestic assaults -- misdemeanor as well as felony. In States where arrest is not mandatory, new laws now permit police to make probable cause arrests even when the police themselves have not witnessed the violence. Previous laws had required that the victim file a formal complaint when no police had witnessed the crime.
    5. Society has perhaps become more litigious. In response to the growing threat of civil suit, police have adopted what might be called "defensive policing." In defensive policing, the actions police take toward victims, witnesses, suspects, and the general public are closely managed by formal procedural rules established by police departments in part to protect police from suits. Among other things, the rules define situations in which police have a duty to act. Fewer decisions are left to police discretion.

    Chart data - in spreadsheets
    Figure 15 Figure 16
    Robbery Assault

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 65.1 24.3 60.6 41.3
    1982 62.8 56.3
    1983 70.6 35.2 65.7 37.1
    1984 68.2 63.6
    1985 79.4 66.4
    1986 78.7 78.3
    1987 76.4 38.3 76.7 48.0
    1988 77.1 82.7
    1989 88.1 93.9
    1990 94.4 95.4
    1991 88.2 47.2 98.5 52.4
    1992 77.4 84.0
    1993 77.4 47.2 79.4 45.3
    1994 73.5 82.1
    1995 78.4 34.7 100.0 52.7
    Figure 17 Figure 18
    Burglary Motor vehicle theft

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 58.1 70.4 92.8 100.0
    1982 61.2 83.6
    1983 61.3 69.7 93.6 100.0
    1984 62.8 95.9
    1985 63.9 99.8
    1986 65.2 100.0
    1987 63.5 64.9 97.9 89.1
    1988 63.5 98.5
    1989 68.9 94.3
    1990 68.1 93.9
    1991 70.8 62.4 87.3 94.3
    1992 67.5 97.3
    1993 64.8 59.4 85.9 93.5
    1994 65.0 95.0
    1995 72.1 55.3 100.0 82.6

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