The FBI has released its Crime Report for 2021 – but it tells us less than ever about the overall state of crime in the US


The FBI has just released its 2021 Crime in the Nation Report, which is generally the most comprehensive overview of crime in the United States. But only 63% of the nation’s more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies submitted data for 2021 — the lowest level of participation the FBI has reported since at least 1979. Only 52% of all agencies have submitted a full year of data, the FBI said.

A change in how the FBI requires agencies to report crimes in 2021 has seen turnout plummet. Participation is voluntary and several of the nation’s largest police departments, including the LAPD and NYPD, did not submit any data to the FBI last year, according to the agency. Agencies that submitted at least partial data serve approximately 65% ​​of the country’s population.

The data collection system, called the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS), requires more detail (and effort) to record crimes, which the FBI says has lowered turnout rates. As a result, the 2021 report relies heavily on estimates for their national figures.

The new report estimates an overall drop in violent crime of 1% compared to 2020, mainly due to the reduction in the rate of robbery, which fell by 8.9%. The agency also reported a 4.3% increase in homicides between 2020 and 2021.

The NIBRS aims to “provide more useful statistics to promote constructive discussion, measured planning and informed policing”, according to its website.

But it’s unclear how useful this latest version is given the record turnout from local agencies – just weeks before November’s midterm elections, where crime has become a dominant topic.

“We are currently in a period where crime, and violent crime in particular, is of great concern,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist and professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “So now is exactly the wrong time to produce crime statistics that rely so heavily on estimates.”

In 2015, the FBI announced that it was moving away from its previous data reporting system, the UCR Summary Reporting System (SRS), in favor of collecting only NIBRS data. The SRS allowed agencies to aggregate monthly totals for eight crime categories: murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, arson, motor vehicle theft, burglary, and robbery.

But the NIBRS provides detailed reports on dozens of different types of crimes. It gives greater context about each individual crime committed, including the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, the type of weapon used, the time of day the crime was committed or whether the incident took place. been resolved.

Although the NIBRS was first introduced in the 1980s, law enforcement agencies – from local police departments to county sheriff’s offices – could submit their data to the FBI using the Simplified SRS until 2020. Many organizations have been slow to transition to NIBRS. While some have used the NIBRS to report their crime statistics to the FBI for decades, many have not.

Many agencies have been slow to switch to NIBRS. While some have used the NIBRS to report their crime statistics to the FBI for decades, many have not.

The 2021 report is the first year that all agencies have been required to submit NIBRS data.

When the transition was announced, the FBI estimated it expected an initial turnout of 75%, well above the actual turnout of 63% revealed in Wednesday’s report.

The lack of comprehensive data – and the months-long delay between the end of the year and the release of the report – led other organizations to fill in the gaps.

The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), a non-profit organization that studies criminal justice policy, published a study in January analyzing crime trends in 2021 in 27 major cities in the United States. Their findings were similar to the FBI’s estimate: homicides increased 5% and aggravated assaults increased 4% between 2020 and 2021, indicating that sharp increases in violent crimes were leveling off.

Analysis company AH Datalyticswhich maintains an up-to-date survey of murders in all major US cities with populations over 100,000, reported similar results – a 5.7% increase between 2020 and 2021. But these groups have expressed concern about their role in informing the public.

“I can’t think of any other system in American culture today where we accept this archaic data collection system,” said Jeff Asher, crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics. “It is absurd that people have incited private citizens to take it upon themselves to guess what our national killing streak is.”

The FBI has spent tens of millions of dollars training law enforcement across the country to use this new system, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Readers can view the amount of money their local law enforcement agency received from the federal government to make the change here. Several agencies appear to have received grants, but did not report any NIBRS data to the FBI in 2021.

Many factors contribute to low turnouts, Asher told CNN, ranging from technical challenges to weak incentives to adapt to the new system.

“There hasn’t been a lot of political pressure,” Asher said, citing the voluntary nature of reporting as another of the challenges. “You have to train your officers in new ways of doing things…it’s hard to overcome the momentum of a system that’s been around for about 80 years.”

In some of the nation’s largest states, very few agencies reported last year’s data to the FBI. Only 2% of more than 700 California agencies have reported data to the FBI. In Florida, only two agencies reported data.

It may be years before the share of agencies reporting with the NIBRS catches up to pre-2021 participation levels, but data from 2022 shows improvement. In September of this year, the FBI reported that it had already received NIBRS data from 60% of law enforcement agencies across the country, indicating that next year’s report may be more solid.

Last year’s UCR report saw a nearly 30% increase in homicides from 2019, the largest year-over-year increase in FBI history. The alarming jump came in a year that has seen a global pandemic, massive civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd, and unique economic and social stressors.

The 2021 report could have provided essential insight into the state of crime in a country emerging from a historic and tumultuous period. But while the NIBRS data provides new details on some crimes, the current situation nationwide remains unclear, particularly because the FBI’s 2022 report likely won’t be released until late 2023.

However, other sources said the historic rise in crime the nation saw in 2020 has leveled off.

While the FBI only reported agency-level data from 2022, the CCJ and AH Datalytics released national results for this year. In his mid-year report, the CCJ found that in 29 major US cities, homicides were down 2% from 2022, but aggravated assaults and robberies were up 4% and 19% respectively. AH Datalytics reported a 4.5% decrease in murders in the cities studied.

Until agency participation in the NIBRS increases, the FBI may have to continue to rely on estimates for its national crime reports – but complete and up-to-date U.S. crime data is essential for setting policy, allocating funds to police and informing the public, experts say.

“Credible data on crime trends is more important than it has been in 25 years — but now the numbers are at their most uncertain,” CCJ CEO Adam Gelb told CNN. “This [information] the vacuum allows for speculation and manipulation, and further erodes trust in the justice system and in government in general.

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