Blue-Ribbon National Panel To Tackle Crime-Stats Issues


Help is on the way for the nation’s long-criticized system of collecting and analyzing data on crime and justice.

A new panel on Modernizing the Nation’s Crime Statistics, organized by the National Academies of Science’s National Research Council, will hold its first public workshop-style session this Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The effort is sponsored jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)—two Justice Department agencies that for many years have put out separate data on crime that sometimes have seemed out of sync.

At different times each year, the FBI and BJS issue major reports on crime, but the FBI’s is a compilation of incidents reported to local police departments and BJS’s National Victimization Survey is based on interviews with a representative sample of Americans on whether they have been victimized in the past year.

The two reports most often show consistent trends, but the public may be confused when they do not.

Many of the issues involved in measuring crime were explored by The Crime Report this spring. A leading one is that much key crime information is out of date. The story noted that Attorney General Eric Holder gave a major address this year about the nation’s heroin problem that relied on data several years old.

The panel is chaired by Jeffrey Sedgwick, who was BJS director during the George W. Bush administration. Other members include Daniel Bibel of the Massachusetts State Police; Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University; Kim English of the Colorado Department of Public Safety; Robert Goerge of the University of Chicago; and Nola Joyce of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Also on the panel were: Janet Lauritsen of the University of Missouri-St. Louis; David McDowall of the University of Albany; Jennifer Madans of the National Center for Health Statistics; Michael Maltz of Ohio State University; Michael Miller of the Coral Gables, Fl., Police Department; James Nolan of West Virginia University; Amy O’Hara of the U.S. Census Bureau; John Pepper of the University of Virginia; and Alex Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas.

The committee’s mandate is to “assess and make recommendations for the development of a modern set of crime measures in the United States and the best means for obtaining them.”

‘Better Information Needed’

Its charge declares that “better information is needed on certain crime types such as (crimes} against businesses or organizations and personal identity theft; also needed is greater ability to associate attributes such as firearms or drug involvement to crime types, and more complete adoption of electronic reporting, data capture, and system interoperability.”

Other issues being considered include “gaps in knowledge of contemporary crime,” the development of international crime classification frameworks so that crime can be compared among nations, and “capabilities for flexibly identifying and measuring new and emerging crime types going forward.”

Whatever recommendations the panel may make will face budgetary realities in Washington, where the federal government has allocated only a tiny amount of money for crime statistics.

The panel said it “may consider cost-effectiveness and budgetary issues, such as priority uses for additional funding that may be obtained through budget initiatives or reallocation of resources among units of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The committee’s description doesn’t mention it specifically; but one question may be whether the BJS and FBI should be operating separate statistical units that look at similar questions.

In 2016, the panel says it will suggest “ways to ensure that the nation has an integrated, complete, and contemporary set of indicators of the full range of crime (including the best means for disseminating data and findings) and document the joint role of FBI and BJS in producing those indicators.”

This Thursday’s session will not include formal speeches; rather, participants will meet with members of the panel to discuss specific issues.

The panel asks that those who want to attend send a message to Daniel Cork, or Michael Siri, The group will have another similar session on July 24.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.

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