Launching Arrest Trends

Vera developed Arrest Trends to unlock important policing data. This tool helps to answer fundamental questions about American policing by organizing publicly available datasets into one easy-to-use platform. Users can explore multiple related and customizable visualizations that allow for a deeper understanding of police enforcement in local jurisdictions and across the country. Arrest Trends focuses on the following critical areas.

  • Arrests: How many arrests are made annually, and for what?
  • Demographics: How do arrest trends vary across demographic groups?
  • Clearance rates: How successful are the police at solving reported crimes?
  • Victimizations: How common are victimizations and how often are they reported to the police?
  • Data reported: What gaps exist in policing data?

Through Arrest Trends, users can easily access and analyze decades of policing data that previously has been disparately located and difficult to interpret. This tool builds on the development and successes of Vera’s Incarceration Trends tool, which collates and visualizes publicly-available jail and prison incarceration data to explore and compare county and state incarceration by location and time. Arrest Trends will allow a broad group of stakeholders to access data related to policing at both a national and localized level, allowing users to better understand how police currently operate and helping to set the roadmap for reform.

What Arrest Trends does and who it helps

Arrest Trends allows users to:

  • explore multiple up-to-date indicators of enforcement in one comprehensive tool;
  • profile the use of arrests in individual agencies, counties, states, regions, and the United States as a whole;
  • understand how arrest trends vary over time, place, offense type, and arrestee demographics;
  • learn about gaps in policing data, when and where they exist, and how they affect information accuracy and transparency; and
  • identify situations (such as locations or non-serious offense types) in which enforcement is particularly heavy with limited public safety need.

By making data accessible to all, Vera hopes Arrest Trends will generate dialogue about the role of policing. Importantly, the tool can be used to highlight the extent to which local decisions about arrests create disparity and may act as a primary driver of mass incarceration. For example:

  • police chiefs can use Arrest Trends to understand how various policing strategies and new approaches (such as decriminalizing select low-level offenses, implementing de-escalation strategies) might impact their communities;
  • policymakers can access information that is critical to decisions about the potential impact of decriminalizing certain behaviors (such as vagrancy);
  • criminologists and researchers working in related social policy disciplines can incorporate measures of enforcement into their analyses more easily; and
  • media outlets, educators, and advocates can use the tool to inform the public about the extent and disparate impacts of arrests locally and across the country and how this has changed over time.
What data is featured in Arrest Trends?

Arrest Trends collates information from eight major data series, so that users can easily explore police enforcement trends in one comprehensive location:

Vera has produced a separate technical report, Arrest Trends: Data Sources and Methodology, which readers can access for more information about these data sources and how they were analyzed and integrated into this tool.Megan J. O’Toole and S. Rebecca Neusteter, Arrest Trends: Data Sources and Methodology(New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019). In general, however, Arrest Trends uses these data series to populate interactive visualizations of the following five policing indicators: (1) arrests; (2) arrest demographics; (3) clearance rates; (4) victimizations; and (5) reported data (in other words, gaps in data reported by police agencies to the FBI). Reporting policing data through the UCR is optional; agencies can opt to report all, some, or none of their data. To avoid issues of undercounting, the FBI also releases datasets that provide estimates of police data. Both data series (reported and estimated) are featured in Arrest Trends. Reported and estimated arrest data are generally available in Arrest Trends from 1980 to 2016. Reported demographic data is generally available from 1980 to 2016, and estimated demographic data is generally available from 1980 to 2014. Reported clearance rate data is generally available from 1964 to 2016. Reported data (an indicator of how much data is shared by police agencies) is generally available from 1964 to 2016. All of these indicators (such as arrests, demographics, clearance rates, and data reported) feature data at the agency, county, state, regional, and national levels—though estimated data is generally unavailable at the agency level. Estimated victimization data is generally available from 1993 to 2016, and exists at the regional and national levels. Users can explore these indicators to better understand the extent, disparity, effectiveness, and transparency of American policing enforcement practices.