Understanding UCR – and why it's important for grants

One common problem law enforcement grant seekers have with applying for most federal grants is that you are required to have submitted Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data for the past three years in order to be eligible to receive a grant.

As a grant person, you may not understand UCR, although you have most likely heard of it. While law enforcement agencies are not required to submit any data to the FBI, every agency is encouraged to do so. The information is published in the annual “Crime in the United States” report.

In all but four states (Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and parts of Ohio), law enforcement agencies submit their annual data to a state UCR program. It’s these departments that review, analyze and validate the data received before sending it along to the FBI. As with many things, every state does this process a little differently, and some require even more information than the FBI does.

If your agency does submit UCR data annually, you are good to go for these federal opportunities. This includes most, if not all, Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) grants.

So why is it important to submit UCR data if it’s not mandatory? The reasons not to do it make a lot of sense. Compiling this type of data is difficult, time-consuming and fraught with issues. Small agencies may not have the resources to accomplish it, and even larger agencies with great data collecting capabilities find it to be cumbersome and difficult to manage.

BUT — You probably won’t be able to get a federal grant without it.

Unfortunately for agencies that haven’t yet set up a UCR data collection system, the effort it takes to compile UCR data can be onerous. It’s not just a matter of adding up the numbers by crime type because the elements that make up UCR crimes are very specific.

There is hierarchy to the crimes (Part I and Part II), and only one crime can be counted for each reported incident, which defaults to the highest one on the scale. Each crime type must meet specific criteria that most likely won’t match your state’s statutory definitions, so your internal data won’t match up to UCR data.

The basic elements that make up the definitions for each crime, and the crimes that are counted, have changed very little since the system was first developed in 1929, although the FBI is currently undertaking a redevelopment of the system. Arson was added a number of years ago (it’s the only one that can be used as a second crime in a given incident), hate crimes have also been included in the overall data collection and, just recently, changes were made to the characteristics that constitute rape. UCR data also includes clearance rates and there is a separate report on law enforcement officers injured or killed.

Interestingly, the FBI clearly discourages using the published UCR data to rank or compare crime rates across jurisdictions, since the resultant numbers are just that and don’t take into account a number of factors that would enable you to compare cities in an apples-to-apples fashion. Of course, that doesn’t stop a lot of people from doing just that. Despite its limitations, UCR does provide a year to year analysis of how each agency or jurisdiction is doing addressing its own crime issues.

It’s up to the administration of your agency whether or not you submit annual data for UCR, but understanding that not doing so limits your ability to apply for federal grants may be a starting point for further consideration.

For more information on UCR, go to the FBI’s website or contact the agency in your state that collects the data.

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