How much use are the FBI’s preliminary crime rerot numbers for 2007, in mid-2008? Not much, say some crime experts interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch who advocate for a more timely release of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Anecdotal evidence abounds that crime is back. St. Louis is among several U.S. cities struggling with murders this year, although other types of crime are down. Chicago, too, has experienced bursts of violence. But there won’t be a 2008 national crime picture until next year.
Policymakers need to know if violent surges are isolated problems or part of a larger crime wave, said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “These data are simply not useful for the purpose of determining where we are now and what we might do over the next months,” said Rosenfeld, a national advocate for improving crime data. “There is no reason to distribute preliminary data that is 12 to 24 months old, when a 6-year-old can go to a police department website and bring down much more recent data.” Al Blumstein, director of the National Consortium on Violence Research at Carnegie Mellon University, said the FBI should use estimates to release data sooner. “We’re now (more than) five months into 2008,” he said. “They should be able to get a reasonable preliminary estimate within three months and – certainly within six months – ought to be able to get final estimates.” Crime totals have bobbed up and down this decade, following no discernible pattern, after years of decline in the 1990s.