How Urban Law Enforcement Can Benefit from NIBRS
July 9, 2019
On January 1, 2021, the FBI will retire the Summary Reporting System (SRS), the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s main system for gathering crime statistics since 1930. After that, the FBI will collect crime statistics solely through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a vastly more useful, comprehensive, and detailed system of crime statistics.
Participation in NIBRS has increased significantly during the past year, with several larger-sized cities and a number of other types of agencies beginning to submit NIBRS data or committing to participate by 2021. In the meantime, some large cities have not yet opted to participate in NIBRS. These agencies may not be aware of the ways in which NIBRS could help them.
NIBRS for Urban Policing Challenges
One important aspect of participation in NIBRS is shared benefit between agencies. With their large technical capabilities and populations, urban agencies can provide leadership for other agencies to participate in NIBRS. Large urban agencies can also help smaller agencies with their reporting by combining the smaller agencies’ NIBRS data with their own larger datasets, enhancing the usefulness of NIBRS data from that state. Urban agencies may also be able to lend resources to smaller agencies to help them with NIBRS reporting. When large urban agencies choose to lead the transition to NIBRS, the whole nation can potentially benefit from a better understanding of crime.
Over the last several years, police have encountered more criticism and attention from concerned members of the public, creating challenges for public relations and increased need for police transparency. With NIBRS, agencies can provide more information to the public about crime trends, and this can help police give the public the level of openness the public now expects.
SRS mainly compiles statistics about serious offenses, like homicide and robbery, which may lead community members to have incorrect assessments of crime.
NIBRS collects detailed data on many crimes that can affect quality of life, such as:
Theft from motor vehicle
Weapon law violations
Using NIBRS data, agencies could respond to community residents’ concerns about crimes that affect the quality of life. If these crime rates decrease, agencies can use the information to allay the community’s concerns. If these crime rates increase, agencies can use NIBRS data to address these trends by adjusting policing practices and strategies and providing transparency to the community about the issue.
Understanding Business Crimes
SRS counts only a few personal or property offenses like homicide and robbery and only captures a small number of possible data elements about those offenses. Because of this, SRS is not very useful for analysis of business crime, which can take many forms. But NIBRS can help police address business crimes by gathering data about characteristics of arrestees, victims, and offenders for many business-related offenses like:
Liquor law violation
Credit card fraud
Gambling equipment violation
Addressing the Effects of Crime on Youth
NIBRS provides data to help police combat problems such as gang influences on young people and drug crimes occurring close to schools. Using information provided by these NIBRS data elements, police can potentially do better at protecting youth from crime:
Ages of offenders, arrestees, and victims
Location types like daycare facilities, elementary schools, amusement parks, residences, playgrounds, and colleges
Urban Agency Concerns About NIBRS
Perception of Crime Increases
Urban agencies might be concerned that reporting their crime data through NIBRS will significantly increase their crime statistics, but agencies can prepare to dispel misperceptions about NIBRS statistics by understanding how NIBRS works. NIBRS establishes a new, greater baseline standard for crime statistics.
Some law enforcement agencies may be concerned about a perceived increase in crime rates because NIBRS does not have a Hierarchy Rule. The SRS Hierarchy Rule dictates that, in a multi-offense incident, only the most serious offense is counted. For instance, if an offender commits a homicide in the course of a robbery, SRS would count only the homicide. NIBRS, however, would more accurately count both offenses.
Using NIBRS, agencies can examine how criminal offenses might be related so they can form strategies to address them. Consider an example of an offender who commits a homicide during a robbery. The robbery was the offender’s intended crime, but he also committed a homicide as an outcome of the robbery. By examining this type of incident, law enforcement agencies could use NIBRS data to determine how often robberies result in murders, then use the information to commit resources to deter robberies, potentially reducing homicides.
Continuity of Statistics
Some agencies are concerned that transitioning to collecting crime data through only NIBRS will negatively impact the ability to view crime trends. The FBI understands that agencies and communities rely on continuous UCR data for comparison to previous years to understand and address crime trends. For that reason, the FBI will continue to publish SRS data for several years after the 2021 cutoff date by converting NIBRS data into SRS data. This will still allow agencies to make valid comparisons of SRS data in the transitional years after the 2021 cutoff.
Many urban agencies may be reluctant to switch to NIBRS because of the difficulty of switching from their current records management system (RMS) to NIBRS-compatible software. Actually, many agencies’ commercial RMS software may already be compatible with NIBRS. If agencies are unsure of whether their RMS software is compatible with NIBRS, they can ask their RMS vendors or state UCR Program or consult their RMS technical documentation.
The Big Picture
When the FBI retires SRS in 2021, NIBRS-participating city agencies such as Houston and Honolulu will be in a better position of leadership and partnership for the new era of crime statistics. NIBRS can help urban agencies foster accountability and transparency and plan for challenges like youth exposure to crime and business crime. Leaders of urban agencies may have concerns about the technicalities, costs, or perceptions of transition to NIBRS, but agencies can resolve these concerns with proactive information and strategies.
The FBI offers technical documentation, personnel, and training resources to help urban agencies with their transitions to NIBRS. For assistance, agencies should contact their state UCR Program. The FBI is also available to help at 304-625-9999 or UCR-NIBRS@fbi.gov.