An Increasing Number Of Cop Shops Feel The General Public Shouldn’t Have Access To Crime Stats

from the what-they-don't-know-can-possibly-hurt-them,-but-whatever dept

For decades, local law enforcement agencies have blown off requests from the FBI and DOJ to report use of force incidents by officers. This has led to a very incomplete picture of force deployment in the United States — a form of proxy opacity that has allowed agencies to ignore problematic cops and problematic actions.

The public is on high alert now, following the murder of unarmed black man George Floyd by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — a brutal act that has prompted months of anti-police violence protests. By ignoring years of requests for data, agencies were able to hide misconduct and abuse, allowing officials to present symptoms of long-term internal rot as anomalies.

Apparently, that’s not enough for problematic law enforcement agencies, which appear to be a majority of them. According to the FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report — something it has compiled with the cooperation of thousands of local law enforcement agencies since 1929 — this is the first time in a long time participation has dropped to levels so low the FBI cannot compile accurate information about criminal activity trends. (h/t Jeff Asher)

The FBI’s 2022 Uniform Crime Report contains this warning:

For this quarterly release, due to agency participation being under the 60 percent threshold, data trends by region and aggregate population group will not be available. 

There’s a non-nefarious reason for some of this under-reporting. The FBI switched to a new crime reporting system at the beginning of 2021. Prior reporting methods undercounted some criminal acts because it limited local agencies to reporting only the most severe crime in any criminal incident. The old Summary Reporting System utilized a hierarchy rule that limited reporting to the most serious criminal act, even if other criminal acts were involved. In practice this means a murder during a home invasion is only reported as a murder, rather than a murder that occurred during a robbery and trespass of property.

The other limitation of the old system was the FBI’s restriction of crime tabulation to seven major crimes, which ignored many other criminal acts local agencies gather data on.

The new system is better, but it has limited participation. Only 52.5% of US law enforcement agencies (9,981 of 18,818) utilized the system the FBI expected them to use. It’s possible other data was reported but could not be processed correctly with the new system.

But other factors likely play into this limited reporting that go beyond utilizing a reporting system the FBI debuted in 1988 (want to feel old? that’s 34 years ago!), but only began mandating at the beginning of 2021.

One reason agencies may decide to hide crime stats is to ensure continued funding and beat back oversight efforts. Plenty of agencies have been subjected to additional scrutiny over the past couple of years. Some have also faced defunding efforts or rerouting of city and local spending to other areas like social services and mental health efforts. The best way to insist no one screws with the PD budget is to insist crime is on the rise while refusing to provide any data to back up these claims.

An unexpected spike in violent crime is often portrayed a “trend” by opportunistic agencies. Opting out of federal reporting allows these stats to stay buried, perhaps only recoverable by determined public records requesters with deep enough pockets to engage in litigation.

It also allows agencies to hide how terrible they are at solving violent crimes, which is definitely one of things that continues to disappoint constituents asked to pay a premium for underwhelming outcomes.

One way to prevent obfuscation of crime stats is to tie this reporting to federal funding. Like use-of-force reporting, crime stat reporting is voluntary. The DOJ cannot mandate this because it does not directly control state and local agencies. Federalism ensures a healthy separation between federal and local efforts. But that doesn’t mean the DOJ can’t encourage more participation.

The DOJ may not be able to constitutionally wield a stick, but it has several carrots. While local agencies may not care if the DOJ strips funding from body camera programs or community-oriented policing efforts, they’re definitely going to miss their free access to surplus military gear (via the Defense Department’s 1033 program) and their asset forfeiture partnerships with federal agencies that allow locals to bypass state restrictions on legalized theft.

At the very least, this under-participation means the public will have less understanding about crime rates and trends in the areas they live or the areas they may be looking to relocate to. The less information the public possesses, the easier it is for the government — at all levels — to control the narrative. Narrative matters now more than ever, especially for embattled law enforcement agencies. And these days there are plenty of those.

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Comments on “An Increasing Number Of Cop Shops Feel The General Public Shouldn’t Have Access To Crime Stats”

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Rusty Eulberg says:


woke liberal reluctance to see crime statistics broken down by race

It’s real easy to have high crime rates for a particular demographic, when the police only arrest members of that demographic.

Every place that shows crime rates higher for certain races than the population distribution should trigger a DOJ racial bias investigation

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Hyman Rosen says:

Re: Re:

That’s why shootings and homicides are so important to catalog. These are essentially impossible to cover up, so when the woke insist that racial disparities in crime can not be laid at the feet of the perpetrators, an accounting of shootings and murders demonstrates otherwise. The website does this brilliantly for Chicago, for example.

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