Almost 40% of law enforcement agencies did not submit any data in 2021 to the FBI’s crime statistics collection program.
A data gap in reported crime statistics makes it difficult for state and local officials to analyze crime trends.
A June 14 report by The Marshall Project and Axios Local found that almost 40% of law enforcement agencies did not submit any data in 2021 to the FBI’s crime statistics collection program.
That year, the FBI completed its transition to a new platform -- National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) – that would allow it to collect more granular information than was reported to the system it had been using for nearly 100 years.
The old system, the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, collected information monthly on crimes and arrests for eight categories of offenses. NIBRS gathers incident and arrest data for 22 categories of offenses as well as detailed information, such as location of the incident, demographics on the victim and offenders and their relationships, types of weapons involved, property loss and whether alcohol or drugs were involved or seized.
Since NIBRS was first announced in 1988, law enforcement agencies could choose to submit their crime data to either the old system or the new. When the old platform was retired last year, many agencies – dealing with COVID, increased crime and calls for police reform – were unable to transition to the new system, the report said.
Local police forces have struggled to collect and submit the required data to the new system. Staff must be trained on new processes, and data migration – especially for agencies moving from paper records to the FBI’s platform -- is often more complex, time-consuming and expensive than expected.
The underreporting greatly diminishes the usefulness of the national data, observers told The Marshall Project.
“I don't think you could get national numbers, at least not useful national numbers, from this data,” Jacob Kaplan, criminologist at Princeton University, said. “It's going to be really hard for policymakers to look at what crime looks like in their own community and compare it to similar communities.”
Still, crime analysts have gleaned some new insights from the submitted data. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that looked at 2019 sexual assault data from 20 states that had reported granular data to NIBRS determined that “children younger than 13 are much more likely to be assaulted by family members, an insight that can only be extracted with the new data collection,” The Marshall Project reported.
States that have high NIBRS reporting rates, like Utah, can take advantage of the analysis NIBRS offers, allowing departments to spotlight “specific crime trends that allow police to plan how they allocate resources,” Mandy Biesinger, who oversees crime stats for the state Department of Public Safety, told Axios.
Most of the larger police forces in Utah moved to NIBRS at least 10 years ago, she said, and a 2018 state law requires Utah departments to submit crime data according to FBI practices.
The state’s reporting compliance is high because "it's just been a priority for our state," Biesinger said. "We recognize the importance of this information — the value for law enforcement and also for the public."