The FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program is intended to generate reliable statistics for the use of law enforcement agencies across the country. It is also available to the media, the public, and to researchers who seek to analyze and draw conclusions from the data. For example, the statistics are available to law enforcement for purposes of budget formulation, resource allocation, and to address various crime problems. Similarly, they are used to inform the public about crime trends, locations, and related information. And the data covers everything from specific crimes, to locations, trends and more.
In 2021, the FBI changed the system it had been using for decades, in favor of what it described as the “more robust” National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The new system is designed to gather more specific information on each incident reported; unfortunately, many law enforcement agencies did not supply the information requested. In fact, almost 40% of the law enforcement agencies across the country failed to submit any data to the program for 2021.
While you might assume that the missing 40% consists mostly of small towns who were unable to assimilate the new program into their existing database, you would be wrong. The gap in reporting includes New York City, Los Angeles, along with most agencies in New York, Florida, California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
Nature and Effect of the Data Gap
The data gap resulting from the failure of almost half the law enforcement agencies to submit reports to the FBI has serious consequences. It makes it harder, if not impossible, to analyze trends in crime in specific areas and in the country as a whole. And fact-checking the claims of politicians, some of whom use these statistics to support their political positions, becomes virtually impossible.
Just as important, the missing information skews the data as it applies to Americans by race and ethnicity. For example, the non-reporting entities covered counties that collectively include 38% of the nation’s Asian population, and 19% of the Hispanic or Latino population. This means, effectively, that if you are looking at hate crime statistics relating to a particular ethnic group, the numbers are largely meaningless.
The potentially good news is that departments across the country are attempting to transition to the new system, and hopefully the 2021 debacle will not be repeated.
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