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True Crime Stories? Accounting for Differences in our National Crime Indicators

Date Published
March 2002

This article describes the distinct approaches to measuring crime used by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and provides a strong justification for maintaining these two approaches to address very distinct policy needs.


There is some confusion about the purposes, advantages, and disadvantages of the UCR and the NCVS. They are both two national measures of crime in the United States. The UCR, the older of the two programs, is compiled from monthly reports transmitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation from law enforcement agencies across the country, either directly or through centralized State agencies. The crimes selected for inclusion in the UCR Program, referred to as Index Crimes, were chosen because they were considered both serious offenses and likely to be reported to the police. The NCVS is a victimization survey conducted from a large sample of United States households. The survey was designed to serve as a benchmark for UCR statistics on crime reported to the police; to measure unreported crime; and fill a perceived need for information on the characteristics of crime not provided by the UCR. The types of crime measured by the NCVS are similar to those measured by the UCR. Since both national crime indicators measure the same general set of offenses, it is expected that they would provide similar portraits of the crime problem in the Nation. The two programs have often, but not always, presented similar year-to-year crime change estimates. The differences between the two programs, in their purpose, methods, and offenses measured, are considerable. They measure different aspects of the crime problem. The nature of the differences between the UCR and NCVS include measuring reported crime (UCR) and unreported crime (NCVS); the population coverage; the definition of crimes; and the basic counting units. Both the UCR and the NCVS are subject to limitations and sources of error. Crime must be examined from a number of perspectives in order to be fully understood. 1 figure, 1 table, 5 references

Date Published: March 1, 2002