FBI is quietly withholding large amounts of crime data from Americans

The reality of already distorted American crime statistics grew murkier after the FBI backtracked on a decision about its voluntary reporting system.

Prior to 2022, the bureau had accepted crime data from two separate systems utilized by law enforcement agencies across the country. Now, after an effort to standardize systems accomplished little more than a misrepresentation of statistics, the switch back threatened to be equally distorted.

According to the FBI’s recently released report on 2022 crime statistics collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, “The FBI’s crime statistics estimates for 2022 show that national violent crime decreased an estimated 1.7% in 2022 compared to 2021 estimates.”

Those figures represented data from both the Summary Reporting System (SRS) and the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). However, glossed over by the bureau’s report was the reality that data for the year prior had been arguably unusable after about 40 percent of agencies had submitted no data for 2021.

The problem came about from the FBI’s decision to complete the phase-out of the SRS in favor of the NIBRS because of the granular data it provided. As it happened, agencies like the New York City Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department had not made the switch and therefore, like others according to The Appeal, had submitted no data for 2021 when nationwide statistics boasted a roughly 1% decrease in violent crimes like robbery, rape and assault.

Aware of the insufficient reporting, data analyst Jeff Asher pointed out in March 2022 that the FBI would “not be releasing quarterly crime estimates for any quarter of 2021 because not enough agencies reported data to the FBI.”

The admitted lack of reporting resulted in the FBI’s return to the previous year’s UCR program incorporating both systems, but still, only 83 percent of all law enforcement agencies turned in data and, as indicated by The Appeal, the wildly different records “makes it difficult to know how much of the change in the topline numbers is the result of actual changes in crime level versus changes in data-reporting practices.”

The new data claims that violent crime dropped by 2% with about 10% of the actual population still not represented through the available statistics.

Commenting on the available figures, the vice president of advocacy and partnerships at Vera Institute of Justice Insha Rahman told the Guardian, “You miss the full story when you have incomplete and patchy data. The issue of crime is deeply weaponized and politicized and we see that come up especially during election cycles. Florida has very incomplete data but Governor [Ron] DeSantis’s campaign is stating they’ve made Florida the safest state.”

The ready politicization of the data was further highlighted by Asher who said, “Everyday people don’t know if the crime statistics are going up or down but they know how they feel and what they see in the media. That’s how people’s senses of safety are shaped.”

“But we can use these statistics to help shape conversations, show trends and see where we need to pay more attention,” he added, while admitting crime rates are readily dismissed in favor of viral videos and anecdotes.

What’s more, the skewed data presented an ongoing challenge to concretely establish the impact that progressive policies on policing like bail reform had had throughout the nation.

Kevin Haggerty

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