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Under Two-Thirds of Police Agencies Reporting Crime Data to FBI

Photo: FBI, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The national murder total has soared since the beginning of the pandemic, but thousands of police agencies have stopped reporting crime incidents to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. It's hampering efforts to understand why murders are up, reports

"That's going to be harmful in crafting effective policies to reduce violence," says Josh Sugarmann of the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, which depends on the normally complete FBI crime data to make policy suggestions to curb gun violence.

So many police agencies' dropping out will deal a big blow to reports that compare trends like violence against women from state to state.

"This information isn't just egghead data that gathers dust on some researcher's shelf. It has real world implications," says Sugarmann. "It reveals the types of weapons used in Black homicide, victimization, and Latino victimization, and tells us the relationship between victim and offender, the location of attacks, and the age of victims.

In 2020, the FBI said it would stop collecting information crimes after Jan. 1, 2021 from local agencies that had not transitioned to the more comprehensive National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

The FBI forecast a 75 percent participation rate from the nation's police agencies by the end of 2021.

The FBI now says the participation rate stands at only 62.6 percent.

Nearly 16,000 agencies reported crime statistics to the FBI in 2020. Now, only 11,920 agencies are reporting.

"It was simply a mistake for the FBI to require local agencies to abandon this system they had been using for decades," said criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri St. Louis.

Rosenfeld says loss of so much information about crime across the U.S. is especially troublesome for 2021.

"We're talking about a year in which there's widespread concern and quite sound evidence that homicide rates in particular, but also gun violence rates more generally went way up," said Rosenfeld.

The FBI blamed the lower-than-expected participation in NIBRS on "technological challenges and loss of agency personnel necessary to complete the transition."

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says some local agencies that fail to join NIBRS could get cut off from access to some federal funding.


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