Crime Rates, Police Activities and Organizational Events

Orit Shalev, University of Pennsylvania

The impact police agencies have on crime is a well-known matter of debate that dates as far back as 1829, when the first modern police agency was established. A hundred years later at a foreword In "The Annals", published by the American Academy of Political and Social Science, dedicated to "The Police And The Crime Problem," Sellin (1929) wrote: "It has become almost fashionable to call the police to task for the existence of crime in our country" (p.: v). Seventy years later, Eck and Maguire (2000) used research findings to illustrate the common perceptions among social scientists regarding the effect police have on crime: Police levels have no effect on crime rates, but specific police activities have some effect on crime rates depending on location and time. Another aspect of that debate relates to police crime data and reports. Describing the "Annual Police Report", Timmerman (1929) stated that many police officials, of the 1920's did not pay much attention to the annual report, its accuracy and its uses. As many as half of the police departments, according to Timmerman, avoided publishing an annual report. In many cases, they showed the report to a limited number of people. Other departments published their crime reports so late that they were no longer relevant and had only historical value. Timmerman also mentioned the fact that at that time - the 1920's, the reports were not unified and each department had its own version (Timmerman 1929). The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) issued by the FBI was initiated at that time, i.e., the early 1930's. Nevertheless, over the years, it has not dramatically changed the problems related with police reports and data. Maple (1999) called his second chapter "A game of Bluff" and wrote that before 1994, the Transit police in New York City checked their crime data periodically - every six months. He also claimed that 10 percent of the cops do 90 percent of the job. Usually, the Uniform Crime Report lists part one offences: Murder; Aggravated Assault; Robbery; Rape; Motor Vehicle Theft; and, Larceny-Theft. These six offenses are divided into "Violent crime" and "Property crime". Also presented are "Persons Arrested" and "Juveniles and Violence" that includes their offenses and arrests. The last part of the report is "Law Enforcement Personnel." This section shows aggregated data of the number of police personnel - sworn and civilian, for thirteen geographical areas nationwide, by states, by cities and for universities and colleges (UCR, 1991). The UCR does not report any other data regarding police departments, such as rank distribution per department; number of supervisors; position distribution (for example, patrol vs. investigations). Some of that data is being collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and published every three to four years under the title "Law Enforcement and Administrative Statistics" - LEMAS (Reaves, 1999). Again, the data is aggregated and though much more detailed, does not go to the district, neighborhood or street level within a city. The LEMAS is a snapshot report of a department. It does not mention crime rates as a unit of analysis (denominator) when referring to personnel; expenditures and pay; operations; equipment; computers and information systems, policies and programs; and community policing (Reaves, 1999).

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006