The federal crime victimization survey, which for more than 30 years has provided annual estimates of nationwide crime totals, is threatened with suspension because of a budget shortage in the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Crime & Justice News learned that BJS director Jeffrey Sedgwick has warned that the 2007 survey might have to be cancelled because his agency lacks about $2.5 million necessary to pay the U.S. Census Bureau increased costs for the survey work. The victimization survey has cost about $19 million, more than half of BJS’s annual funding. Congress never completed work on the current fiscal year’s Justice Department budget. The House would have slightly increased BJS funding; a Senate committee would have cut it sharply.
Sedgwick has given Attorney General Alberto Gonzales options that apparently range from suspending the survey to transferring $2.5 million from elsewhere in the Justice Department’s budget. Criminologist James Lynch of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice said it would be “very scary” if a “major social indicator” like the victimization survey wre ended, even temporarily. With crime rising in many places, “this is not the time to get less information on it,” he said. Mary Lou Leary of the National Center for Victims of Crime said a suspension of the survey “would have a very negative impact on victim services.” Noting that the survey includes estimates of unreported crime, particularly rape, Leary said, “We should be designing services and programs based on reliable information; this survey is a significant source of knowledge.” Gonzales is expected to decide within a few weeks; BJS must tell the Census Bureau by early February whether to go ahead with this year’s survey.