Power, speed and agility — the stuff of superheroes — come to mind when it comes to fighting crime.
But a national program is proving that math comes in handy, too. More than 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation take part in the Uniform Crime Reporting program (UCR). The FBI started the program in 1930 to get a clear picture of crime trends.
In Missouri, local law enforcement agencies report their crime statistics to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which sends them on to the FBI. The FBI adds the statistics to its databases, which the public can access, and uses the data to create four annual publications on crime nationally.
Among many others in the Kansas City area, police departments in six municipalities north of the Missouri River crunched their UCR numbers for 2014, compared them with 2013, and looked at the patterns that emerged in eight categories of crime called Part 1 crimes: aggravated assault, arson, burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft, murder, rape and robbery.
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Officials with police departments in Gladstone, Kansas City for its jurisdiction north of the river, Liberty, North Kansas City, Parkville and Riverside all said they use the numbers to help them adjust how, when and where they use their patrol officers to deter crime.
Capt. Andy Hedrick, commander of support services for the Liberty Police Department, said the department had started participating in the UCR program in the early 1970s.
“It’s certainly helpful from an awareness perspective … year to year, but also month to month and day to day,” Hedrick said. “We don’t wait (until annual numbers are available). We make adjustments more immediately. We do reports daily and analyze trends.”
For example, Hedrick said, the department knows based on statistics it’s compiled for several years that Kansas Street west of North Clayview Drive to Interstate 35 is where most of the city’s traffic accidents occur.
“It has heavy traffic and a string of traffic signals, so we target enforcement in that area,” he said.
Hedrick said he wasn’t surprised by any of Liberty’s 2014 statistics. The number of incidents increased in four categories: motor vehicle theft by 64.5 percent, arson by 33 percent, assault by 15 percent, and burglary by 3.8 percent. The numbers also decreased in four categories: murder by 100 percent, robbery by 50 percent, larceny by 13.8 percent and rape by 12.5 percent.
Looking at percentage changes alone, though, can be misleading. For example, Liberty reported no murders in 2014 and only one the previous year. And changes in numbers from year to year rarely if ever lead to certain knowledge about the cause of the changes, Hedrick said. Despite that, police try to identify reasonable correlations and take action when appropriate.
Another example Hedrick gave: Liberty’s arrests for driving while intoxicated decreased 7 percent in 2014, to 65 from 70 in 2013. The police department’s number of officers also decreased, and Hedrick said he saw “a correlation, at least” between the two.
Crime statistics give the department “an ability to look at things over the course of time, and it’s a measure of how well we’re doing things in our community,” he said.
Sgt. Kari Thompson, spokeswoman for the Kansas City Police Department, provided statistics for its North Patrol and Shoal Creek Patrol divisions based on the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System.
Kansas City police don’t break down UCR statistics by division, Thompson said.
North Patrol had increases in seven of the eight Part 1 crime categories in 2014 compared with 2013; Shoal Creek had an even split of increases and decreases.
“We definitely are trying to be a proactive department rather than reactive,” she said. “Winter months are heightened times for robbery. We try to look at different trends that we see based on these numbers.”
Through Kansas City’s No Violence Alliance, Kansas City police have “figured out that about 5 percent of our population is committing about 75 percent of the crime,” Thompson said.
The alliance was started in January 2013 by law enforcement and probation officials; the offices of the mayor, Jackson County prosecutor and U.S. attorney; and clergy members. Its mission is to reduce violence in the urban core.
“We try to let persistent offenders know there other options for their lives,” she said. “We also give them a promise: If you do not choose to take a better route – stop committing crime, get a job, get a trade — then we’ll prosecute you for any crime you commit. We had our lowest homicide rate last year in the past four years — 78 homicides.”
In an effort to reduce crime in Riverside, that city’s police department often talks with residents and business owners to remind them of ways to lessen the chance they’ll become crime victims, and it increases police presence in certain areas when necessary, Sgt. Brent Holland said.
“The overall value in these numbers is that it gives the department an idea of where to put their focus,” Holland said. “These numbers help us set our priorities.”
Gladstone also uses crime statistics to set its priorities, in part by guiding its budget requests for overtime or more officers, and by analyzing trends and shifting patrol officers accordingly, Police Chief Mike Hasty said. Gladstone has taken part in UCR since the early 1950s.
“We sit down and go over the data every morning,” Hasty said. “We meet with our crime analyst about every other week. Patrol sergeants tend to report upticks. UCR is definitely worth the time necessary keep up with it.”
In 2010, Hasty said, “we pointed to some increases in calls for service and in violent crime, and used it to push for a public safety sales tax, which passed.”
“We hired six new officers and got into the new metropolitan regional radio system, which lets us communicate with other area police departments and sheriff’s departments,” he said.
Parkville Police Chief Kevin Chrisman and North Kansas City Police Department Maj. Kevin Freeman both said their departments looked at UCR statistics daily and at other intervals to help them decide how to allocate their resources.
“It helps me see if I’ve got any hot spots,” Chrisman said.
Looking at a year’s worth of data, though, isn’t always useful, Freeman said.
“If we see trends over two or three years, it’s more useful,” he said.
Bridget Patton, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Kansas City office, said the agency serves as a clearinghouse for local law enforcement agencies in the UCR program. The FBI enters the data into searchable public databases and uses the data to create four annual publications: “Crime in the United States,” “National Incident-based Reporting System,” “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted” and “Hate Crime Statistics.”
“Crime in the United States” hasn’t been published for 2014 data, Patton said. But preliminary numbers the FBI released for the first half of 2014 show a decrease of 4.6 percent nationally in the number of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) compared with the same period the prior year.
Property crimes nationally – including burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft – decreased 7.5 percent in the first half of 2014. Arson decreased 6.5 percent.
The FBI doesn’t rank law enforcement agencies that participate in UCR, or individual locales, based only on crime data, and it cautions others against doing so.
Information on the FBI’s website notes that the numbers and types of crimes vary because of factors like population density, composition, as well as economic conditions, adding:
“Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place. UCR statistics include only jurisdictional population figures along with reported crime, clearance or arrest data. Rankings ignore the uniqueness of each locale.”
Percentage increases in crime from 2013 to 2014
Motor vehicle theft