National Crime Statistics Are Accurate and Contradict Surgenor's Claims
Robert Surgenor claims that the FBI Uniform Crime Reports demonstrate that we are now in an "epidemic" of juvenile crime. On the previous page of this review, we examined the actual figures from the UCR and learned that they show the exact opposite of what Surgenor claims: a continuing decrease in overall juvenile violent crime arrests for most of the past decade. Surgenor counters that UCR figures after 1992 are not accurate when they show decreases in juvenile arrest rates. On this page, we shall examine Surgenor's basis for this claim, and discover that it is based on demonstrably false assertions about the UCR's methodology in the post-1992 period. We shall note that the other major source of USA crime statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which uses a completely different methodology, has also recorded a downward trend in reports of juvenile crime in recent years similar to the UCR's downward trend over the same period.
To avoid charges of misrepresenting Surgenor's position, his argument against the accuracy of post-1992 UCR data is presented below in his own words.
"In 1992, many of the law enforcement agencies in the United States switched to another form of entering crime statistics. Prior to 1992, each department reviewed their crime incidents and entered that information on a form that was forwarded to the F.B.I. In 1992, an alternative was offered to police departments. It was called the National Incident Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, for short. It incorporated the use of computer data entry screens and special formats, making it quickly retrieve crime statistics for their community. Departments were advised by the promoters of this product that it was compatible with the computer format used by the F.B.I., so there would be no further need to compile figures by hand. The department would be able to fire off the digital information from NIBRS directly to the F.B.I. There was only one problem. It wasn't compatible.Surgenor's attempt to attribute the steadily decreasing rates of overall juvenile arrest rates nationwide to an artifact of the transition to NIBRS reporting is extremely weak on its face. For one thing, Surgenor completely ignores the fact that the FBI has been well aware of the reporting difficulties of some agencies undergoing transition to NIBRS. Bureau statisticians have used sophisticated statistical methods to estimate arrest rates in agencies which had reportage problems. Also, as he admits in the above passage, his own agency continued to hand-compile arrest rate figures and forward them to the FBI after 1992, thus making them comparable to pre-1992 figures which were compiled and sent in the same manner. Aside from 1992 itself, the subsequent years would not have been affected at all. The 1996 UCR discusses this issue:
"Tables 1 through 5 and 7 of this publication contain statistics for the entire United States. Because not all law enforcement agencies provide data for complete reporting periods, estimated crime counts are included in these presentations. Offense estimation occurs within each of three areas: Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA's), cities outside MSA's, and rural counties. Using the known crime experiences of similar areas within a state, the estimates are computed by assigning the same proportional crime volumes to nonreporting agencies. The size of agency; type of jurisdiction, e.g. police department versus sheriff's office; and geographical location are considered in the estimation process.Surgenor completely fails to explain how the FBI's estimation methods for a minority of agencies experiencing reportage problems could somehow account for the fact that juvenile arrest rates have dropped year after year for most of the past decade, nor how they could cause the juvenile arrest rates to drop faster than the adult arrest rates have dropped during the past few years. Indeed, Surgenor makes no mention of the FBI's estimation methods at all. Instead, he makes one of his most outrageously false statements in a book riddled with error, shoddy scholarship, and nonexistent scholarship:
"So there is one major factor to consider when looking at the F.B.I.'s Uniform Crime Reports. In the years following 1992, there were many departments that began utilizing NIBRS to enter their crime statistics and simply quit sending the figures to the F.B.I. This fact can easily be confirmed by comparing the UCR figures from 1991 to the present. For example, in the 1991 UCR, one can see the list of cities that reported to the F.B.I. from the state of Illinois. There are a total of 177 cities shown, from Addison to Zion. In fact, the list takes up four pages.This statement of Surgenor's is absurd. He must believe the FBI's statisticians monumentally dense and professionally inept if he thinks they would treat crime from six cities as if those were the only places in the entire state in which crimes occurred, or that the FBI would simply stop recording data for hundreds of police agencies and take no steps to statistically correct this omission. The 1996 UCR discusses the special case of the State of Illinois as follows:
"Concerning Illinois, valid Crime Index counts were available for most of the largest cities. For other agencies, the only available counts were generated without application of the UCR Hierarchy Rule. (The Hierarchy Rule requires that only the most serious offense in a multiple-offense criminal incident is counted.) To arrive at a state estimate comparable to the rest of the Nation, the total supplied by the Illinois State Program (which was inflated because of the nonapplication of the Hierarchy Rule) was reduced by the proportion of multiple offenses reported within single incidents in the available NIBRS data. Valid totals for the large cities were excluded from the reduction process." (Source: 1996 UCR, p. 390)An actual reading of the UCR indicates that the other agencies in Illinois outside of the large cites were reporting data to the FBI, contrary to Surgenor's assertion. In attempting to attribute the ongoing downward trend in juvenile crime arrest rates to imaginary problems with the UCR's data collection process, Surgenor merely succeeds in making himself look foolish in the eyes of any of his readers who take the time to check the original source rather than just taking his word for it.
If there actually were a problem in the UCR data collection process which created a spurious decrease in the juvenile crime arrest rates over time, we should expect the trends in arrest rates reported by the UCR to diverge from the trends in crime incidence reported by the other main source of US national crime data, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics - National Crime Victimization Surveys (NCVS):
"National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the Nation's primary source of information onThis database, which contains reports of crimes from victims rather than reports of arrest rates from local police agencies, is therefore based on a completely different data gathering method than the UCR, unaffected by the switch to NIBRS reporting. If Surgenor were correct, the NCVS figures should vindicate his position, documenting the "juvenile crime epidemic" he repeatedly assures us is sweeping the nation as a result of more children not being spanked. Instead, like the UCR, the NCVS data has also shown the same downward trends in juvenile crime and crime in general as the UCR. Click here if you wish to view the Juvenile Offenders section (Chapter 3) of the NCVS 1999 National report in its entirety. The graph below summarizes long term trends in reports of serious violent crime by juveniles.
| The darker grey-shaded area in the
graph above corresponds to the period from 1992 to the present. Note
that this is the period during which Surgenor alleges the UCR data on juvenile
arrest rates became "inaccurate." Yet the data from the NCVS, unaffected
by the factors Surgenor cites, shows the same downward trends in juvenile
crime and crime in general. Are we to believe this is all a coincidence?
Surgenor makes no attempt to account for this fact, and ignores NCVS data
throughout his book. The Bureau of Justice Statistics web site
"According to the victim's perception of the age of the offender, the number of serious violent offenses committed by persons ages 12 to 17 declined 44% from 1993 to 1998, while thoseNote that contrary to Surgenor's claims, the current generation of young people is less violent and more law abiding than in the past, not than less so:
"The number of serious violent offenses committed by adults reached an all time low in 1997; the number committed by juveniles reached an all time low in 1998."How can Surgenor continue to declare the existence of a "juvenile crime epidemic" sweeping the USA, without any independently verifiable evidence whatsoever, and despite all available national crime data documenting the opposite of what he claims? Perhaps Surgenor overgeneralized from his personal observations of juvenile crime at the local level? Has either the state of Ohio, or Cuyahoga County, experienced a small scale juvenile crime wave in recent years which Surgenor might have mistakenly believed was representative of the nation as a whole?
On Page Four of this review, we shall examine juvenile crime statistics from Surgenor's local area and discover that they, too, show the same downward trends as the national juvenile crime data.
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