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Surveying Victims: Options for Conducting the National Crime Victimization Survey
a large share (as much as 60 percent) of the agency’s annual appropriations. This interim report responds to this request.
Since the survey began full-scale data collection in the early 1970s, the NCVS has become a major social indicator for the United States. Serving as a complement to the official measure of crimes reported to the police (the Uniform Crime Reporting [UCR] program administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation), the NCVS has been the basis for better understanding the cost and context of criminal victimization. However, and particularly over the course of the last decade, the effectiveness of the NCVS has been undermined by the demands of conducting an increasingly expensive survey in an effectively flat-line budgetary environment. In order to keep the survey going in light of tight resources, BJS has reduced the survey’s sample size over time, and other design features have been altered. When the survey began in 1972, the sample of addresses for interviewing numbered 72,000; in 2005, the NCVS was administered in about 38,600 households, yielding interviews with 67,000 people. Although this sample size still qualifies the NCVS as a large data collection program, occurrences of victimization are essentially a rare event relative to the whole population: many respondents to the survey do not have incidents to report when they are contacted by the survey. At present, the sample size is such that only a year-to-year change of 8 percent or more in the NCVS measure of violent crime can be deemed statistically to be significantly different from no change at all. In its reports on the survey, BJS has to combine multiple years of data in order to comment on change over time, which is less desirable than an annual measure of year-to-year change.
In approaching this work, the panel recognizes the fiscal constraints on the NCVS, but we do not intend to be either strictly limited by them or completely indifferent to them. Rather, our approach is to revisit the basic goals and objectives of the survey, to see how the current NCVS program meets those goals, and to suggest a range of alternatives and possibilities to match design features to desired sets of goals.
PRESERVING THE VICTIMIZATION MEASURE
There are no nationally available data on crime and victimization—collected at the incident level, with extensive detail on victims and the social context of the event—except those collected by the NCVS. It is this basic fact that is the strongest argument for the continuation and maintenance of the survey. Certainly, one option for the future of the NCVS—and the ultimate cost-reducing option—is to suspend or terminate the survey. It is an option that would have to be considered, if budget constraints require