ALR Student’s Corner: Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest Data Analysis Tool

Whether you are or desire to be a federal, state, or local policy maker interested in combating crime, are searching for the most opportune locale to hang your own shingle practicing criminal law, are looking to buy that first home in a low crime area, or are just a statistical junkie like me, the Arrest Data Analysis Tool offered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) is a beneficial resource worthy of examining.

The BJS was established in 1979 and collects, analyzes, publishes, and disseminates information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice systems at all levels of government.  While the BJS offers various Data Analysis Tools, this blog focuses specifically on familiarizing the user with the Arrest Data Analysis Tool. This Tool uses data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program to generate customized national or local tables and graphs of arrests by age, sex, and race from 1980 to 2009.

To access the Arrest Data Analysis Tool, visit the Charlotte School of Law Website, click “Law Library,” click “Electronic Resources,” click “A-Z Index of Databases,” click the letter “C,” click “Crime & Justice Data Online,” and click the “Arrest Data Analysis Tool Home Page” link.

Here is an example of how the Arrest Data Analysis Tool may prove useful.

Before Libby enrolled at Charlotte School of Law her car was stolen. This gets her thinking. Before moving to Charlotte, she decides that she wants to gain a general feel for the level of crime in the city, particularly car thefts. She comes to you with her problem.

First, from the “Arrest Data Analysis Tool Home Page” click the “Agency-Level Counts” tab to access data of local agencies. Next, click the “Annual Tables” tab, which breaks down criminal activity by age, but simultaneously allows the user to gather data on specific crimes. The user could similarly use the “Trend Tables by Sex” and “Trend Tables by Race” tabs to focus on gender and race respectively.

From here, select “North Carolina” as the state, “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department” as the agency since it is the predominant law enforcement agency in the city, “2009” as the year because it is the most recent data, “Offense By Age” as the table, and then click “Generate Results.”

From the table below, you can inform Libby that in 2009 the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reported 29,676 arrests. Of these, 145 were for motor vehicle theft. As can be seen, the table provides information on a number of other crimes by age of the arrestee.

The user should be aware of the limitations of this resource. First, as previously noted, while the BJS is constantly seeking to improve data currency, as of now, data is only current through 2009. Additionally, greater meaning could be derived from the data, specifically for comparison with other areas, if the user could ascertain the total population the selected agency serves. However, a quick cure to this problem is to obtain this data through another resource, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, also available as a Data Analysis Tool accessible immediately beneath the “Arrest Data Analysis Tool Home Page” link. Finally, more than one law enforcement agency serves in many jurisdictions, but the database only allows the user to select one agency per search.

~C. Todd Browning, L’12~

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