FBI’s Crime Data Collection Still Being Stymied By Major Police Departments Not Reporting Crime Stats
from the throwing-money-at-the-problem-isn't-helping dept
The FBI has switched to a new crime reporting system to collect crime data from all over the nation. Despite being given a long runway (the 2021 switch was announced in 2015), the FBI is still seeing an incredible lack of contribution.
The new system is more granular, eliminating the past reduction of crime reporting to the most serious crime charged (for instance, an armed robbery involving a car theft would have been reported as only an armed robbery). To be sure, the changes to how crime is reported to the FBI (and collated by local agencies) present some clerical and technical difficulties, but the federal government has handed out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to support the switch. And it gave local agencies a half-decade head start to get this sorted out.
The first year of reporting under the new system was a mess. Only a little more than half of the nation’s 18,000+ law enforcement agencies provided data via the new reporting system. That trend continues into 2022, as the Marshall Report points out in its dive into the data.
Last week, the FBI released crime statistics for the first quarter of 2022, compiled from 56% of law enforcement agencies across the country. Data from more than 8,000 agencies was missing, signaling that the national crime statistics may continue to miss a significant number of agencies in the near future.
While it may be understandable that smaller agencies with smaller budgets and fewer staff might have trouble collating the data in the detail the new crime reporting system requires, it’s completely inexplicable why some of the nation’s largest, most well-funded agencies failed to turn over any information at all.
Both the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department failed to turn over any data at all to the FBI. The Chicago Police Department did comparatively better, turning over a little more than a half-year’s worth of data.
Meanwhile, the steady flow of federal tax dollars to local agencies continues. The San Diego PD received $2.6 million in funds in 2016 to ease this transition. The San Francisco PD has demanded nearly $14 million in initial funding (and $4 million in annual funding) to perform this transition. Despite all the money, the SFPD claims it will not be able to start reporting data fully until 2025 — a full decade after the DOJ’s announcement of the new crime reporting program.
There’s another factor at play here that goes beyond the technical difficulties and adjustment to reporting changes. Controlling access to crime stats helps control the narrative. The less reporting an agency does, the better it can deploy crime stats to further its own ends. If it thinks it needs more funding, it can cherry pick crime rates that have increased to make the argument more money is needed to combat rising crime. If the agency is facing budget cuts because it hasn’t been effective in lowering crime rates, it can counter those arguments by selectively releasing data showing crime rate decreases.
The FBI’s program is supposed to paint a cohesive picture of crime rates across the US. But with barely more than 50% participation, what’s been handed to the public is a very limited view of the nation’s crime problem.
And it’s not just cops using a lack of data to craft narratives. Politicians are doing it, too. This report from the Center Square shows how a complete lack of data is being spun by an Illinois mayor who’s currently running for governor.
The largest city in Illinois that did not report any crime at all to the FBI in 2021 is the city of Aurora, which has a population of almost 200,000 residents, the second largest in the state.
This lack of data has come in handy for Aurora mayor Richard Irvin, who has been endorsed in his run for governor by several local law enforcement agencies. Without any way of verifying crime data, Irvin is free to make claims like this:
Irvin said during a recent GOP debate that Aurora is one of the safest cities in the nation.
“Look at the statistics, and I did not make this up, WalletHub has Aurora as the sixth safest large city in America and I stand by that,” Irvin said.
Look at what stats? The stats the Aurora PD has selectively released — ones that don’t go into the granular detail required by the FBI’s reporting system? The mayor presiding over a city whose police department has apparently opted out of uniform crime reporting has no business making unsupported claims about the safety of his city.
One assumes things will continue to improve. But how many years will it take before the FBI can safely draw inferences from the data it receives? And, for that matter, will participation increase to meaningful levels before someone — possibly a new administration — alters the contours of the reporting requirements? President Biden’s recent law enforcement-targeting Executive Order makes increased participation a requirement if local agencies expect to have access to federal funds. But that order may only last as long as Biden remains in office, which means it could be rolled back long before the FBI’s program collects enough data to be useful. For now, though, the FBI’s new system remains a failure.