Police officers quite naturally tend to take an up-close-and-personal view of the reports they write: Is my report complete? Did I get the facts right? Are there any grammar and usage mistakes to correct?
But a recent story in a Baltimore newspaper is a good reminder that police reports can be viewed from a much larger context. They provide crime statistics and valuable data about trends in criminal activity. The article in the Baltimore Sun notes that hate incidents – most of them directed at African-Americans – surged 40 percent last year.
The Baltimore data was collected as part of a project involving newsrooms across the US. You should also know about an even larger and more complex undertaking coordinated by the FBI: Uniform Crime Reporting. Police departments all over the country send crime data to the FBI, which collects, interprets, and publishes statistics based on that data.
Every year the FBI publishes four reports (available free from the UCR website): Crime in the United States, , , and .
The FBI data is collected from 18,000 sources across the US. Highly skilled statisticians crunch the numbers, which give a useful perspective on what law enforcement is dealing with in the ongoing fight against crime. The UCR project is one more reminder of the professionalism and commitment to excellence that characterize the criminal justice field.