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Such a comprehensive system, designed to capture data about hundreds if not thousands of types of crimes and the circumstances under which they take place is no small undertaking, even after 70 years of development and evolution. Chilton, Major, and Propheter, in a paper presented at the 1998 annual meeting of the American Society of Criminologists in Washington, D.C., attempt to address this complexity when they note this is an effort “to fill an information gap produced by the conversion from the UCR summary statistics system to an
incident-based UCR system______We examine some of the difficulties related to
the conversion to the new approach, including counting rules, table titles, and the possibilities for confusion among recipients of the information.”9 They go on to recount some of the factors that make the seemingly straightforward task of collecting crime data a larger task than one might imagine:
An incident in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is defined as one or more offenses committed by the same offender or group of offenders acting in concert, at the same time and place. However, counting offenses in the new system is more complicated than it is in the summary statistics program because NIBRS collects information about incidents, offenses, victims, offenders, the property involved, and arrests. Counting is further complicated by the possibility of multiple offenses, multiple victims, multiple offenders, and multiple arrests within an incident.10
Such complexity is suggested by the fact that the National Incident-Based Reporting System, Volume 1: Collection Guidelines, is 128 pages in length. Even in the era of NIBRS, a system built on decades of organizational experience in capturing crime data, there are still problems. Kramer and Fiedler note that even in an NIBRS environment there may still be important issues left open:
Law enforcement is data-driven. Departments collect lots of numbers and are calculating and aggregating numerous police activities. These data are used to make operational decisions. Often decisions are made on anecdotal information, leaving open the possibility for subjective rather than objective information. Even the numbers that are collected may not reflect the reality of the situation. Why?
To put it simply, there is a problem in the policing profession with traditional measurements. The problem begins with the data we capture, how we capture it, and what we do with it.
Traditional measurements, such as the Uniform Crime Report Rate, the NIBRS report, arrests, and tickets, tabulate only events. They do not measure whether the activities were completed efficiently and effectively, and they don’t describe what impact the activities had on the community.11
The authors go on to argue that the only realistic answer to addressing continuing issues around data collection is to create and implement a learning
organization that is continually in the process of self-examination and selfimprovement.
As poorly equipped as the forensic profession, and its practitioners, may be to effectively measure the volume and nature of the problems they are being asked to face, there may even be a glint of good news in this relative vacuum. It may be that the only thing worse than having no system at all is having an existing system, in this case the Uniform Crime Reports, and trying to manage the changeover to a new environment, namely the NIBRS. The Law Enforcement News, one of the leading police newsletters in the nation, recently ran an article about the experiences of one department, Memphis, Tennessee, in making the transition. Command officers involved in the process reported the effort was a “nightmare,” requiring the installation of a new reporting system; finding and paying for a vendor to install the new system; training police officers how to use the new system, which had more than five times the number of data entry possibilities for the recording of incidents; doubling the number of data-entry support personnel; and having to run parallel systems for the 18-month changeover period.12 The good news was that, once implemented, much valuable and useful data was being captured.
Is the FBI experience good news or bad news for the forensic profession as it attempts to better define the size and nature of the occupational fraud problem in the United States? I would argue it is a bit of both. Certainly 70 years of development is a long time, and surely the effort consumed a huge amount of resources along the way, but we must remember the law enforcement task is vastly greater than ours, in simple terms of the sheer number of offenses they are trying to track. Complexity has been added with time. The basic UCRP sought to record arrests and reports to police of crimes committed. The NIBRS is much more comprehensive, in an attempt to better capture the state of crime in the United States, including incidents known to the police, rather than just formal police reports and arrests. It also attempts to capture much more data pertaining to the personal characteristics and circumstances of both the victim(s) and offender(s).