Given large increases in various crimes observed in 2020 and 2021, crime has again become an important issue in the United States. Unfortunately, complications of a transition in the way the FBI collects and publishes national crime data may cloud our understanding of how crime is evolving, creating difficulty in how we make related business decisions and manage security.
The FBI has collected, cleaned, and published crime data using the UCR, or Uniform Crime Reporting, program since 1930. UCR data is published every September for the prior year and includes include data from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States, providing coverage of 95% of the United States population.
The move from the Summary Reporting System to the National Incident-Based Reporting System
For the last 90 years, this data has been collected via the Summary Reporting System (SRS). In the 1980s, they developed the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a more thorough system capturing greater incident level detail that improves the granularity of crime statistics and facilitates a deeper analysis and a more accurate depiction of crime in America.
In 2015, the FBI announced that as of January 2021, all UCR reporting would convert to NIBRS, and they would discontinue SRS reporting. But a significant number of reporting agencies have not made the transition, meaning that forthcoming data describing American crime in 2021 will cover less of the American population, from 95% down to about 65%, with many large American population centers missing from the published data. About 7,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies did not submit NIBRS data for 2021.
Many agencies have already transitioned to NIBRS and have been using the system to complete UCR reporting for several years. States and agencies reporting NIBRS data have enriched the UCR publications and criminological studies offering insights into the age, gender identity, race, and ethnicity of victims and offenders; as well as detailed data further describing the nature of crimes, for instance, how many handguns are used in violent crimes or what locations (i.e. residences, parking lots, convenience stores) crimes occur.
The new standard for quantifying crime
NIBRS also improves upon facets of SRS. A significant example of this is the hierarchy rule. In SRS reporting, only the most serious offense in a criminal case is counted. For instance, if in the commission of a robbery, a victim is killed, then only the homicide offense will be statistically recorded by SRS. Under NIBRS, all crimes pertaining to the offense will be officially represented in the FBI’s published UCR statistics. This will result in an increase of overall crime counts, reflecting a more accurate understanding of how and why crimes unfold.
Although the transition to NIBRS is motivated by a desire to have criminal statistics in America reflect an accurate understanding of crime, many agencies will not report data under the new system for 2021. This includes eight of the country’s largest agencies, including the NYPD and LAPD. The FBI has also said they will not publish state estimates if reporting agencies represent less than 80% of a state’s population. Most agencies in five of the six most populous states have not made the transition. This means data might be missing for California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Does this transition impact the Pinkerton Crime Index?
Despite the FBI setting the transition deadline seven years ago and providing over 120 million dollars to agencies to facilitate the switch to NIBRS, there are concerns that the low compliance rate will leave a dark spot in American crime data for the next few years, as the transition is costly and can take multiple years to complete.
Pinkerton’s PCI products possess a unique value in this unfolding period of uncertainty. Pinkerton, like most in the risk management field, has used UCR publications as the basis for risk analytics; however, the Pinkerton Crime Index is further informed by immense statistical work to edify, enrich, and adjust risk scores by employing statistical machinery with real world experience and perspectives from risk professionals.
Asher, Jeff. “The FBI’s Next Set of Crime Data Is Going to Be a Big Mess.” The Atlantic. 10 May 2022. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/05/fbi-crime-data-nibrs-2021/629797/
Li, Weihua. “What Can FBI Data Say About Crime in 2021? It’s Too Unreliable to Tell.” The Marshall Project. 14 June 2022. https://www.themarshallproject.org/2022/06/14/what-did-fbi-data-say-about-crime-in-2021-it-s-too-unreliable-to-tell
National Incident-Based Reporting System https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ucr/nibrs
NCS-X NIBRS Week https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-rhZcDtvmc