Impact of Employment, Family Structure, and Income on NIBRS Offense, Victim, Offender, and Arrest Rates

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2007

Publication Title

Justice Research and Policy


In some studies of urban crime, offense, arrest, and victimization counts have been used as if they were interchangeable. The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), with its provision of offense, victim, offender, and arrest counts lets us avoid this ambiguity and examine the relationship of social and economic factors to specific crime measures. Our basic question in this study was, "Does it matter whether we focus on victims or offenders when we examine and interpret the correlates of violent crime?" Using NIBRS 2002-2004 robbery and murder counts and census 2000 data for 166 cities, we examined the importance of male employment, income, racial composition, and family structure for an "offense known" measure, a victim measure, an offender measure, and two arrest measures of crime. Our results indicate that for race-specific measures even the best murder or robbery victim rate is a poor substitute for an offender rate, and offense-known measures are even poorer measures of offending. The NIBRS offender rate is the most logical and useful offender measure because it provides a direct indication of the age, race, and sex of most offenders whether or not an arrest occurs. However, arrest rates, and modified arrest rates in particular, provide reasonably close approximations of offender rates. In addition, and unexpectedly, we found that race-specific victim and offender counts and rates take much of the mystery out of the frequently used and variously interpreted variable "percent black."







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