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A Byte Out of History - Uniform Crime Reports

A Byte Out of History
Taking the Pulse of Crime...76 Years and Counting


Cover of the FBI’s first Uniform Crime ReportAl Capone was still running his rackets of murder and crime in Chicago. Bonnie and Clyde had just met in Texas. Lester Gillisaka “Baby Face” Nelsonwas beginning his association with the mid-western underground. And John Dillinger was in jail in Indiana, soaking up bank-robbing tricks of the trade from hardened convicts who would soon help him launch a new career of crime.

The year was 1930…and lawlessness—bank robberies, burglaries, kidnappings, murder, and the like—seemed to be on the rise in the U.S. But no one knew for sure, as crime statistics were not collected from year to year. It was time, law enforcement and congressional leaders realized, to create a nationwide barometer of crime to help authorities understand trends and set priorities.

The concept of collecting crime stats was not a new one. It’d been authorized by Congress in 1870 and discussed by police execs the following year, but plans never got off the ground. There were many hurdles to overcome-from finding funds and someone to run the program…to setting universal definitions for categories of crime.

By the 1920s, the issue had gained momentum. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) took the lead, as it had in many police reforms in the early 20th century. Using a grant, it created a “Committee on Uniform Crime Records” in 1927. An advisory group was formed, including then Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover, and a technical staff was assembled to work out the details of a crime statistics program.

In 1929, a system to classify and report crimes was developed and adopted by the IACP. And who would administer the program? The IACP recommended the Bureau, which seemed the logical clearinghouse for such information given its already effective effort to centralize criminal identification records and its national reach.

As Congress weighed the issue, the IACP published the first Uniform Crime Reports bulletin in January 1930, reporting on crime in 400 cities and 43 states, a remarkable total considering that the guidelines had been disseminated just two months earlier.

Then, on June 11, 1930, Congress authorized the Bureau to collect, compile, and distribute crime records, with its first report due in September (compiling August stats). One newspaper declared that “Uncle Sam…is going to put his finger on the pulse of crime in America.”

That was true, but the hard work of staffing up the program and making it work lay ahead. Using our network of special agents in charge and their relationships with police chiefs around the nation, we increased the number of agencies reporting from 800 to 1,400 within four years and to 5,700 by 1956. We also worked to encourage better record keeping and reporting practices, providing training and audits to help reporting agencies. And we provided detailed review and follow-up on submissions. Reporting accuracy quickly increased as the kinks in the system were worked out.

Over the years, our Uniform Crime Reporting program has continued to grow. Its centerpieceCrime in the United Statesnow encompasses 17,000 law enforcement agencies representing 94 percent of the U.S. population. The reporting of stats on law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty was begun in 1937 and later expanded to include assaults and more details. And over the years, specialized summaries like the annual report on hate crime, added in 1992, were created to highlight specific concerns.

Visit our Uniform Crime Reports webpage for the latest figures, detailed explanations on how to interpret them, and previous reports back to the mid-1990s.