Janet Lauritsen issues call to modernize nation’s crime statistics during presidential address at American Society of Criminology conference

by | Nov 28, 2022

The theme of the annual meeting in Atlanta was the future of criminology.
Janet Lauritsen

Janet Lauriten, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, delivered the presidential address at the American Society of Criminology’s Annual Meeting on Nov. 18 in Atlanta. She used her talk to call for modernizing the system for reporting crime statistics. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Hundreds of the world’s leading criminologists descended on Atlanta earlier this month for the American Society of Criminology Annual Meeting.

The event looked at the future of criminology – a theme chosen by its president, Janet Lauritsen, a Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Lauritsen used her outgoing presidential address on Nov. 18 to talk about the need to modernize and improve the nation’s crime statistics.

“After many years of work by many levels of federal and state government to correct flaws in the compilation of key crime and justice data in the U.S., comprehensive and up-to-date statistics still are lacking in many important ways,” Ted Gest noted in summarizing Lauritsen’s address for the National Criminal Justice Association’s Crime and Justice News blog.

He relayed Lauritsen’s message that more work is needed to correct the “critical… complex… and fundamental” problems in the system for reporting criminal justice data.

This is not a new issue, and in fact, it was one very much on Lauritsen’s mind when she was elected to serve as ASC president in 2020 – becoming the third faculty member from UMSL’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice selected for the honor.

“We are lacking basic information on a lot of different types of crime that we need to develop federal infrastructure for,” Lauritsen said in November of 2020. “That includes crimes by and against businesses, by and against organizations and governments, and against the environment.”

She added: “In the U.S. right now, we literally do not know what the level is, for example, of ransomware attacks on small businesses or around small governments and how rapidly that’s increasing. Without that information, we can’t make any decisions about whether we’re dedicating adequate resources for solving those problems.”

Even crimes that have been the subject of significant study for decades – street crimes such as robbery, assault and burglary – are often slow to be reported to the public, making it difficult to analyze trends and shape policy that might mitigate them.

The problem has gotten worse while the FBI tries to implement a new system called the National Incident Based Reporting System, designed to expand the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

As Gest noted, Lauritsen headed a National Academy of Sciences committee that issued reports in 2016 and 2018 calling attention to challenges in obtaining reliable, timely crime statistics.

“The later report said that in both 2006 and 2015, ‘the nation as a whole was hindered by the typical 10-month gap between the end of the calendar year and the release of current national crime statistics, unable to understand whether local patterns were part of broader regional or national patterns or whether increased homicide activities were limited to specific forms of homicide such as drug-related murder,’” Gest wrote.

UMSL faculty members Adam Boessen, Kelsey Cundiff, Beth Huebner, Marisa Omori, Katie Quinn, Samantha Simon, Lee Slocum, Chris Sullivan, Richard Rosenfeld and Finn-Aage Esbensen all presented research at the conference and were joined by nearly a dozen graduate students.

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik