Crime happens every day. And as crime reporters, we often spend our time running from one heartwrenching crime scene to another, scanning arrest report after arrest report, churning out well-intended stories that state the news, but that too often ignore the bigger picture of what all this crime says about who we are as a society, what we value and what we are becoming.

Back-to-back sessions at the Investigative Reporters & Editors Conference in Miami on Thursday emphasized the importance of digging deeper: of asking the right questions about crime, the government agencies we pay to investigate crime, and those we expect to deal with criminals.

Here are a few tips and ideas I took away from three sessions on criminal justice reporting sponsored by Criminal Justice Journalists and two more hour-long talks that dealt with the topic of databases -- how to get them and what to do with them. Through my crime-centric lens, the database-CJJ coupling was just the ointment I needed to help soothe my crime-scene-weary soul.

"So, Sheriff, you say crime's down?"

Crime statistics don't always mean what you think they mean. Take the time to understand how the data is collected, reported and presented. Read the law enforcement agency's data collection guidelines. Talk to the agency's data guru. Request raw data, but put those figures in perspective by reporting them in rates. (Who can forget the impact one statistic had earlier this year when it was released: "1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars.") But when digging through those numbers, keep in mind what panelist Valerie Kalfrin of The Tampa Tribune learned and reported in 2006: The data you have is only as good as how it is reported. Some crimes might not ever make the list.