Confusion Over UCR

Credit: Mikhaliliuk

Aggravated assaults provide an example of confusion over UCR, because many police officers believe any aggravated assault is a felony.

Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.

Confusion over UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) occurs when police officers try to compare UCR crime classifications with state criminal codes. Many will suffer confusion over UCR for their entire careers.

UCR is an FBI classification system for uniformly reporting crime, and it has nothing to do with your state criminal code.

Everybody Loves Trains

Think of Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) as a freight train, and your State Criminal Code as a passenger train. Both trains are traveling in the same direction, and both are headed to the same destination. The trains are on separate tracks, and they will never merge during their journey.

The UCR train will deliver its cargo to a freight depot, and the State Criminal Code train will deliver its cargo to a passenger terminal. The freight and passengers will never be commingled.

Felonies and Misdemeanors – More Confusion over UCR

You’re a police officer enforcing laws in compliance with your state’s criminal code. How you classify crime under UCR has no bearing on whether the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.

Aggravated assaults provide an example of confusion over UCR, because many police officers believe any aggravated assault is a felony. An aggravated assault can be a felony, or it can be a misdemeanor. A police officer can arrest a person for any crime committed in the officer’s presence, and it doesn’t matter if the crime is a felony or a misdemeanor.

You’re going to arrest suspects for crimes not committed in your presence. When the crime is a felony, you can arrest based on probable cause without a warrant. When the crime is a misdemeanor, you must follow your state’s misdemeanor warrantless arrest criteria. For example, Maryland has three standards for warrantless misdemeanor arrests:

Can the suspect be identified?

You’ll encounter suspects who are not carrying valid identification. You may establish the suspect’s identify by other means, but if that fails you may arrest without a warrant. A positive identification must be made to prevent escape from prosecution.

Will evidence be lost or destroyed?

A suspect removes a necklace from a store’s jewelry display, and he places it in his pocket. The theft is witnessed by a store employee who calls police. You arrive, and you conduct your investigation. 

The suspect presents valid identification, but he denies the theft, and he refuses to consent to a search of his person. The theft is a misdemeanor since the value of the necklace does not meet the threshold for a felony crime. You may make a warrantless arrest to prevent the loss of evidence which is the necklace.

Does the suspect represent a continuing threat?

Two men, known to each other, engage in a fist fight not in your presence. The aggressor inflicts a laceration to the victim’s lip requiring medical attention. This crime is an aggravated assault under UCR, and it’s a misdemeanor under your state’s criminal code.

Identification of the suspect is not in question, and there is no evidence to be lost or destroyed. You finish your investigation, and you’re about to leave when the suspect makes the following statement. “When he leaves, I’m going to kick your ass.” You may arrest the suspect for the misdemeanor assault, because he’s made clear he’s a continuing threat to the victim.

The Captain Suffers Confusion over UCR

As a patrol officer, I submitted an aggravated assault report involving two brothers. The crime was a misdemeanor, and none of the misdemeanor arrest criteria applied. Our Assistant District Commander had been tasked with reviewing all aggravated assault reports. The captain issued a directive that all aggravated assaults must be accompanied by an arrest when the suspect is known. 

The captain confronted me regarding my aggravated assault report. I assured him I would make application for an arrest warrant, but he corrected me. “It’s a Part One crime, and you don’t need a warrant. Just go out there, and lock the guy up.” The captain was afflicted with confusion over UCR, but I did not debate the point. I followed the captain’s direction, but I took a detour. I stopped at the Court Commissioner’s Office where I obtained an arrest warrant, and then I “locked the guy up.”

The Sergeant Suffers Confusion over UCR

On another occasion, I was dispatched to a super market where store security was holding a shoplifter. I had previously made misdemeanor shoplifting arrests at the market, but the suspects lacked valid identification. This time, the suspect possessed a valid Maryland driver’s license; the items taken were recovered, and she posed no threat to anyone.

All thefts are Part One crimes for UCR, but they too are categorized as felonies or misdemeanors under state law. I told store security that they must apply for an arrest warrant or criminal summons. That didn’t go down well, and the store’s manager called for my supervisor.


My Sergeant heard the details of the incident, and he promptly directed me to arrest the suspect. I tried to explain that I needed a warrant to arrest, but my Sergeant was having none of it. His confusion over UCR was on display when he explained, “A Part One is a felony, and you don’t need a warrant.” I refused to execute the warrantless arrest. Exasperated, the sergeant called for another officer who would follow the unlawful order to make the warrantless arrest.

I suffered no problems from my refusal to arrest, and a few months later I was vindicated. The police department issued a written directive regarding misdemeanor shoplifting arrests. The directive cited the misdemeanor arrest criteria, so doing things right sometimes does get noticed.

You’ll wonder why police officers are confused, and you’ll wonder how so many rise in rank with their confusion over UCR firmly intact.

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