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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Gives Remarks at “National Crime Victimization Survey 50th Anniversary Celebration”


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Amy. It is wonderful to join you today, and to be among so many former DOJ officials here too. I’m really honored to be part of this milestone celebration, marking 50 years of the National Crime Victimization Survey.

I also want to thank Kevin and the outstanding team at the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) for their efforts in putting together this event and for their excellent stewardship of the vital National Crime Victimization Survey. BJS manages a rich collection of data ranging across the public safety spectrum, and the National Crime Victimization Survey is among their largest and highly regarded data collections.

Let me also thank Rob Santos and our friends at the Census Bureau for their long-standing partnership. They’re the ones responsible for interviewing almost a quarter-million people in some 150,000 households every year to collect the data for the survey. It is a massive undertaking, and it is always carried out with the greatest professionalism and integrity and we're really grateful for all that they do.

Informed decision-making depends on having accurate and thorough data. We have and continue to rely on data to help formulate policies to address our nation’s most pressing public safety challenges. And the information we learn from that data also guides us as we strive to ensure that policies are equitable and just.

For many years, the only information we had about crime and violence was what was reported to the police. Service calls and arrest reports were our sole source of data. And while information from law enforcement agencies across the country is critical to understanding the challenges facing our communities, we’ve come to appreciate over time that relying solely on this information doesn’t tell the full story.

Fifty years ago, our nation took a major step to fill in the narrative. The story of the National Crime Victimization Survey began in January 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson established the Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. The Commission, which was chaired by Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, conducted a pilot survey on crime victimization, a prototype for the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Through the survey, the Commission uncovered a significant gap between victims’ self-reporting of crimes, and crimes reported to law enforcement authorities. It recommended that this victimization survey, then named the National Crime Survey, be carried out on a continuous basis, given what the Commission said was its “great potential for discovering the extent and the nature of unreported crime.” The first full year of the data collection was 1973, and for the past 50 years, it has been the nation’s primary source of information on criminal victimization. It provides vital data about when and where crime occurs, who commits those crimes, the circumstances surrounding those crimes, and the impact on victims. Through the survey, we're able to get data that we would otherwise lack: the reasons why a victim did or did not report the crime; the ripple effects of victimization on a person’s health and economic wellbeing; whether they were able to access victim services to address the impact of their experience. These are just a few examples of the types of insights that the survey provides.

The past 50 years have brought innovations in data collection methods, new survey content to address emerging categories of crime, and detailed statistics on crimes reported and not reported to the police – all made possible by BJS. But one thing has remained constant, and that is the need for reliable, credible data to drive our public safety policies and improve our criminal and juvenile justice practices.

Over the years, BJS, working with our partners at the Census Bureau, has taken important steps to improve the survey’s design and reduce the burden on respondents, while increasing data collection on emerging crime types, such as identity theft, fraud and stalking. This dedication to continued refinement has established the National Crime Victimization Survey as the gold standard of criminal justice modernization, which was laid out in the Crime Commission report that first influenced its development.

BJS and the Census Bureau have also worked with others to sustain and enhance this invaluable source of information. An expert panel of researchers and academics have provided input on key advances over time, including ways to improve the measurement of crime and the development of community safety measures. Many of these contributions will be reflected in the redesigned instrument that will be used in the field next year.

Other partners in the federal statistical community have worked with BJS to help inform what’s collected in the survey and to report out significant findings. To take a few examples, for decades the National Center for Education Statistics and BJS have jointly reported on school crime and safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and BJS have worked together to report on workplace violence. And internally, in our Office of Justice Programs, the Office for Victims of Crime provides financial support for the survey, as well as a national census and the national survey of victim service providers.

In this anniversary year, President Biden recognized the importance of the federal statistical system with a report on Leveraging Federal Statistics to Strengthen Evidence-Based Decision-Making, which was published alongside the FY 23 President’s Budget. And Congress acknowledged the importance of good data and data systems when it passed the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act of 2018. The Evidence Act sets up new requirements and processes for federal agencies to modernize their data management practices, evidence-building functions and statistical efficiency, all of which inform evidence-based policy decisions.

It’s really no exaggeration to say that the National Crime Victimization Survey is an essential part of the federal statistical system. It provides reliable data to support strategies that promote public safety, increase community trust and ensure equitable delivery of services. The survey can be used to understand not only differences in crime patterns across communities, but also how the impact of that crime varies for different people and households. And notably, with the new NCVS instrument, these measures will be expanded to holistically understand respondents’ perceptions of community safety. With this information, we're better able and better equipped to recognize and meet the distinct safety needs of each community across our nation.

So as we commemorate this anniversary and look ahead to the next 50 years, we can rest assured that the National Crime Victimization Survey is doing what it was intended to do – to give a more complete picture of the victimization experiences of Americans. The survey is a cornerstone of the Justice Department’s statistical collections. But more importantly, it is foundational to guiding our response to crime, including our efforts to fill gaps and provide improved services and support to victims of crime.

I am really proud of how the National Crime Victimization Survey has so faithfully captured our evolving public safety challenges over time. Our criminal and juvenile justice professionals, our victim service providers, our researchers and think-tanks, our legislators and policymakers, and the American people at large are better informed and better served, thanks to this survey.

So thank you again for all that you do every day to promote safety and well being in our communities and thank you for the partnership and support.

Updated September 27, 2023