Social Science / Law Essay


UCR and NIBRS Comparison


The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) and National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) are the two systems of crime reporting in the United States of America. These two systems are the major data sources for all crime-related information.

The UCR was established in 1929 to be used voluntarily by all local police agencies to submit data about the crimes that occur within their localities to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

NIBRS, on the other hand, was established in the 1970s. It was created out of a need for a more comprehensive crime reporting system. Each local police agency has the freedom to choose which of the two systems it'll use in reporting crime data to the FBI. This choice has created a discrepancy in crime reporting data as the two systems vary in many ways. This essay looks at the variations, hence the need for a UCR and NIRBS comparison.

The NIRBS was designed to complement UCR; thus, it is unnecessary to ask which of these two systems is better. Each fulfills the purpose of data collection in its way. For instance, a student researching crime will find the detailed NIRBS more useful, while a news reporter will most likely go with the brief UCR. The similarity between the systems of crime reporting is in their common goal. That said, below are the significant differences between the two crime reporting systems.

The number of Offenses Tracked

The UCR divides offenses into two parts – I and II. In the first part are eight major offenses such as burglary, rape, robbery, arson, aggravated assault, murder, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. The Part II contains 21 less serious crimes such as drug trafficking, vandalism, fraud, gambling, violation of liquor law, etc. thus a total of 29 offenses.

However, NIBRS uses groups A and B to classify the offenses. Group A has 22 major crime indexes such as robbery, forcible sex, bribery, homicide, fraud, etc. Group B has 11 offenses which include all offenses not covered in Group A. This represents a widened scope of crimes to be reported under NIBRS.

Mode of reporting

The UCR uses the traditional summary based system to report crimes. This means the number of offenses committed in each part and the sum of criminals arrested for each offense is recorded. It is this brief report that is forwarded to the FBI. The NIBRS goes beyond recording summarized crime statistics each crime and arrest is treated as a whole. All data about it, such as the offender information, victim, the nature of the offense, other offenses, and all related data is submitted in an account. This detailed report makes it easier to track crime and criminals and to determine crime trends.

As part of its reporting, NIBRS also differentiates between completed and attempted crimes. The UCR records all crimes without distinguishing between the two. But each reported crime in NIBRS is labeled A for attempted or C for completed.

Furthermore, UCR only collects weapon information for criminal offenses such as murder, robbery, while NIBRS collects weapon information for all violent and criminal offenses. Thus, NIBRS pays copious attention to details that usually excluded from the UCR reports.

Updated definitions

The NIBRS has provided new definitions for crimes apart from what was used in UCR. For example, the UCR defines manslaughter by negligence as the killing of another through gross negligence. NIBRS has redefined this by removing the word gross. Furthermore, the categorization of crime by their definitions has also changed. UCR includes all traffic fatalities into manslaughter by negligence, but NIBRS accidental traffic deaths from this subcategory of homicides. In another instance, NIBRS defines intimidation within the category of assault. Something not done in the UCR.

Comprehensive reporting as opposed to hierarchy rule

Hierarchy rule is used in the UCR to determine which crime should be reported when a series of crimes are committed in one incident. The rule states that the most grievous of the offense will be specified for that incident. Thus, if someone breaks into a house, steals and puts the stolen property into a car owned by the property owner, and while in the process driving off, knocked down the owner before escaping. Although there are many offenses committed here, robbery, which is the highest in the hierarchy is what the UCR will record.

The NIBRS, however, will record all the offenses within that episode as its handbook defines an incident to be crime or crimes committed by an offender or a group of offenders operating together at the same time and place.

Classification of crimes

The UCR classifies crime into two broad categories of crime against persons and crime against property. NIBRS, however, includes a third category, crime against society. A sort of victimless crime.

Expansion of the hotel rule

The hotel rule under UCR which States that multiple rooms burglaries in a facility when reported by manager instead of individual occupants will be treated as one incident has been extended to mini-warehouses and self-storage warehouse.

Impacts of the differences

Since there is no uniformity in the system adopted by each police agency, the differences have caused discrepancies in available data on crime. The dualism alone is not the cause of all these discrepancies. Other factors such as human errors, computer problems, and other operational issues peculiar to different states with different penal codes also cause inconsistencies in the data. However, these discrepancies are not so serious as a study reveals that the difference in data between NIBRS and UCR is that the former is about 5.5% or less, higher overall. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000)


Looking at the UCR and NIBRS comparison, it is evident that there is a need for a uniform system for crime reporting. This will ensure more accuracy in data collected, make the data more reliable, and useful for security agencies, government, and individuals to understand crime trends and put preventive measures in place.

Plans for this are already in place with NIBRS set to take over as the only crime reporting system by 2021. To further make it effective, it will be obligatory on all agencies, unlike the optional UCR. With such adoption, it is believed that crime reporting will become more standardized and comprehensiveUCR and NIBRS Comparison, making for more informed agencies.

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