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Teaching & Understanding Sept 11 Mark Hamm & Paul Leighton

Should Sept 11 Victims Be Counted in the Crime Reports?

By Paul Leighton

Sept 11 candle 9-11 ribbon memorial

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Author's note: since I wrote this, the FBI released the 2001 Uniform Crime Reports. As discussed below, Sep 11 victims do not appear in sections on Index Crime, Homicide or Assault.

All 9/11 victimization is reported in a separate section because "they are different from the day-to-day crimes committed in this country" (UCR 2001, p 303). However, the recent sniper killing around DC were not 'day to day crimes'; while serial killers frequently populate the media, their victims (individual and collective) are still infrequent enough to pose the question of why them and not Sept 11 victims. Further, victims of the first WTC bombing and McVeigh's victims in Oklahoma City were included in past UCRs.

This essay originally ran under the title "Decision on 9/11 Victims Is a Crime" in Newsday 29 Aug 2002. The version here has been expanded and updated. 

(c) 2002 Paul Leighton. Permission is given to link to this page or distribute paper copies at or below cost. All other rights reserved

My argument still stands that Sept 11 should be included, and people who don't think they belong can go through the exercise of arguing why they should be excluded. Negating them from 'day to day' crime supports Presidential assertions of overly sweeping power, privileges assassination over trial, and undercuts the growing need for a stronger international criminal court. The decision to exclude 9-11 victims is thus a political one, rather than a criminological one or a rationale found in the 'objectivity' of the UCR. 


Plans to create a fitting memorial on the World Trade Center site are the subject of heated public debate, but on another front, a decision has been made and quietly announced that denies Sept. 11 victims what many would consider an appropriate memorial. 

The announcement came from the FBI regarding its Uniform Crime Reports, a yearly report to the nation on crime and wrongdoing, which apparently will not include victims of Sept. 11 terrorism as "crime" victims or even hate-crime victims.

In a way, the decision makes sense. Airplane- into-skyscraper is not what comes to mind when we think about the country's "crime problem." But mass murder is still murder, and the UCR even includes "explosion" as a subcategory of homicide -- a designation that has been used for terrorism victims in the past. 

The issue is not just a philosophical one. News reports will appear in October, when the final report is released, asserting that homicide increased just 3 percent from 2000 to 2001 -- not the 26-percent increase we actually experienced. The media will follow the UCR's lead and report that, contrary to what we all know, 2001 looked very much like 2000 in terms of criminal violence and lawless mayhem. 

Excluding the Sept. 11 victims is not based on uncertainty about the numbers: For New York, the FBI notes there are 2,830 homicides it didn't count "because they are statistical outliers that will affect current and future crime trends." Although the victims are mentioned and enumerated in the first paragraphs of the FBI's press release about the UCR, the all-important trend data -- used for reports, publications, articles and textbooks about crime -- will exclude them. [note 1]

If the FBI had chosen to include the Sept. 11 victims, people using the UCR - bureaucrats, students, professors, reporters and the like - would have a visual reminder of the terrorist attacks whenever they looked at the numbers. The spike in the homicide graph would become a memorial -- a simple and odd memorial, but one with great power to engage the energies of  those reading about the nation's "crime problem." 

Adding in all the World Trade Center victims would mess up the graph showing New York's homicide rate, which, like that of the nation, had been a gracefully declining slope. And trying to analyze some issues -- like examining the impact of community policing on violent crime -- would be more difficult. But since the number of Sept. 11 victims is known, individual researchers could adjust for the impact of terrorism, after justifying to themselves and their readers that it is necessary to do so to make their study more meaningful. 

Including the Sept. 11 victims would also be more consistent with the way the FBI has counted previous acts of terrorism, including the first World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Timothy McVeigh's 168 victims made up for a small part of that year's 21,597 recorded murders, and the homicide rate still fell. But the UCR recorded that murder-by-explosion victims increased from 18 in 1994 to 190 in 1995. 

According to the FBI, the UCR's main objective is "to provide a reliable set of criminal justice statistics for law enforcement administration, operation and management." Omitting large acts of terrorism, but not the smaller ones, is a problematic way to provide meaningful and consistent statistics.

But more to the point, why not let the graph show what criminal justice professionals already know -- that the acts of Sept. 11 changed their mission and jobs?

The Patriot Act expanded police powers to do intelligence gathering and increased the military's power to police. Many police have had to take a crash course in bioterrorism. The American Bar Association's annual meeting included a debate and condemnation of citizens being labeled enemy combatants. And prisons are finding the detention of immigrants to be lucrative business. The administration and operation of criminal justice has some significant differences between 2000 and 2001, and if the UCR is really to provide reliable data, then it should reflect the victims of the acts that drove the changes.

The compelling logic of acknowledging Sept 11 as crime ultimately requires less emphasis on the mass murders being a conceptually unique event, even while the label of 'crime' is respectful of the tremendous loss and lingering questions about why it happened. The logic also requires more emphasis on the rule of law and individual rights enshrined by the Constitution. That is a very fitting memorial for the victims as the world observes the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11.

note 1: Additionally, there were 7,233 aggravated assaults that don’t count. The assaults are not included because of a “Hierarchy Rule of Summary” which requires that “only the most serious offense in an incident is reported.” 


Uniform Crime Reports, 2001

494 American servicemen and servicewomen have died in Iraq since combat began on March 25, 2003. New York City had 596 homicides in 2003. So Iraq is no more dangerous than NYC?




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