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After 2021 Crime-Stats Debacle, Things Are Looking Up

Last year's switch to the system aimed at improving FBI tracking of crime statistics, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), rendered nationwide and many statewide crime statistics for 2021 almost meaningless, with barely half of the U.S. population covered by a law enforcement agency that submitted a full year of data for that year. But the stats for 2022 are looking more robust, writes crime analyst Jeff Asher at his Substack publication Jeff-alytics. This year, for 2022 numbers, the FBI will revert to its previous practice of allowing agencies to report under the old system until they have fully made the NIBRS leap. "The major headache of 2021’s estimates appear to be mostly solved," Asher wrote. "The national crime estimates for 2021 will likely always require an asterisk, but one skewed year of crime statistics is much easier to accept than three or four skewed years."

NIBRS has clear advantages over the old Summary Reporting System, which centered on seven categories of major crimes. NIBRS boasts a greater level of depth to crime data and modifying what data is reported to allow for more accurate crime counts nationwide. But, with so many agencies (including in large cities) not yet complying, NIBRS-based estimates had giant gaps. The FBI estimated that there were 22,900 murders nationally in 2021 with a margin of error between 21,300 and 24,600 murders. Violent crime was estimated to have fallen 1 percent from 2020 to 2021 with a margin of error between a 12 percent decline and a 12 percent increase. Property crime was estimated to have fallen 4 percent from 2020 to 2021 with a margin of error between a 38 percent decrease and a 50 percent increase. Allowing agencies to submit data via SRS again should mean the national estimates can rely on many more agencies than the 65 percent that drove 2021’s estimates. In the meantime, some of the nation’s largest police departments such as the New York and Los Angeles police departments should be NIBRS-compliant to start 2024.


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