On January 1, 2021, the FBI will retire the SRS, which has been the UCR Program’s primary system of collecting crime statistics for the United States since 1930. After that date, the FBI will collect crime statistics only through NIBRS, a much more detailed, comprehensive, and useful system for crime statistics.
Thousands of U.S. law enforcement agencies participate in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program via the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), but many agencies still use the Summary Reporting System (SRS), which is about to retire. Some of the United States’ largest city police departments are among those that do not yet submit their UCR data via NIBRS. These agencies might not be aware of some important ways in which NIBRS can benefit them.
Many large city agencies have records management systems that they believe are sufficient for their needs, but large city agencies participating in NIBRS can gain additional benefits that their current systems might not be able to offer. NIBRS can provide large city law enforcement agencies a greater depth of knowledge about urban crime for strategic policing and effective use of resources.
Furthermore, large city agency participation in NIBRS is important for other U.S. agencies. With their large population coverage and high levels of technical capability, large city agencies can provide leadership for other agencies in the NIBRS transition. For example, larger agencies can facilitate the reporting of the smaller agencies by adding the smaller agencies’ NIBRS data to their own large datasets, which would enhance the value of NIBRS data from their state. Large city agencies may also be able to supplement the resources of smaller agencies to assist them in their NIBRS reporting. When large city agencies choose a path of leadership through NIBRS, the whole field can benefit from an increased understanding of crime.
NIBRS Can Address Large City Challenges
Increased transparency. In recent years, law enforcement agencies have encountered increased scrutiny and the need for more transparency in public relations. NIBRS data presents a broader, more accurate picture of crime trends than SRS, allowing police agencies to be more transparent with the community about the way crime impacts daily life.
SRS only includes statistics about serious crimes, like homicide and robbery, which may lead community leaders and citizen groups to have false perceptions about types of crimes.
NIBRS collects greater detailed data than SRS on a variety of crimes that can affect quality of life, including
With NIBRS data, agencies can more readily respond to concerns about crimes that affect residents’ quality of life in a community. If the rates of these crimes decrease, agencies can present the data to concerned community members to allay their concerns. Conversely, if the rates of these crimes increase, agencies can use NIBRS data to develop responsive strategies.
Addressing business crimes. SRS has little utility for tracking and analyzing statistics about business crimes; however, NIBRS can help law enforcement address business crime by capturing data about characteristics of victims, offenders, and arrestees for many business-related crimes, such as
NIBRS’ capability for capturing data on business crime is important for helping analysts and law enforcement agencies monitor and react to crimes that cause vast losses for individuals, organizations, and communities.
Better understanding of youth exposure to crime. SRS offers little data to help law enforcement agencies and community governments combat problems like drug operations occurring close to schools and gang influences on young people, but NIBRS can provide answers. NIBRS collects the following data elements, which may help law enforcement design and implement policies to safeguard the youth of their communities from crime:
- Ages of victims, offenders, and arrestees
- Location types including residences, daycare facilities, playgrounds, elementary schools, colleges, and amusement parks
- Gang involvement
- Specific drug types such as crack cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines
- Drug quantities
With the data NIBRS can collect, agencies and communities may make better strategic decisions to protect youth from crime risks.
Large Agency Concerns for Transitioning to NIBRS
Addressing perceived crime increases. Increases in reported crime are concerning to agencies of any size. Large agencies, in particular, might be concerned reporting their crime data via NIBRS will exponentially increase their crime statistics, and some agencies might need resources to help educate news media and public leaders about the seeming increase in crime numbers under NIBRS.
Colonel Edwin Roessler, Chief of the Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department and a member of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, implemented a tactic for successfully addressing potential concerns from elected officials and the news media about differences in crime figures with the transition to NIBRS. “One of the main reasons why agencies resist transitioning is because it may appear as if the agency has been misleading through their SRS reporting,” Col. Roessler says. “One way to avoid this misperception is to invite the media to participate early in the transition to ensure they understand the difference between SRS and NIBRS data.”1
NIBRS establishes a broader baseline for crime reporting because it captures more data, including victim data, offender data, and property data, on many more types of offenses than SRS does. Due to its broader accounting of crime, NIBRS establishes a new baseline of crime statistics that more accurately captures the picture of crime.
Agencies might also be concerned about increased crime statistics because, unlike SRS, NIBRS does not have a Hierarchy Rule. Under the Hierarchy Rule, only the most serious offense in an incident is counted. For example, if a robbery and a homicide occur in the same incident, SRS counts only the homicide, not the robbery, in its dataset. Although some agencies believe NIBRS artificially inflates crime numbers by eliminating the Hierarchy Rule, it actually provides a more accurate picture of a community’s crime. Consider the example of the robbery and homicide that occurred in the same incident. Even though SRS did not count the robbery, the robbery did, in fact, happen. Because NIBRS counts both the robbery and the homicide in its dataset, NIBRS more accurately measures objective reality, providing a more precise accounting of crime.
It is also important for agencies to consider how criminal offenses might be related so they can better strategize enforcement policies. NIBRS data provide information that will inform these strategies. In the example of the robbery and homicide, the robbery may have been the offender’s intended crime, while the homicide was an unintended outcome. With additional information, law enforcement could potentially prevent this type of homicide by using strategies to deter robberies.
To see how the removal of the Hierarchy Rule would affect crime data, the FBI conducted a study called Effects of NIBRS on Crime Statistics. Using NIBRS data from 2014, the FBI applied a conversion algorithm to determine how the data would appear if the Hierarchy Rule was applied. The FBI found incidents involving multiple offenses were only 10.6 percent of total offenses, and reporting via NIBRS showed an apparent increase in crime of only between 0 and 2.7 percent for various SRS offenses.2
NIBRS can also better serve a community by collecting data on a broader array of offenses than SRS, collecting more details about offenses, and providing a more accurate count of crimes without the SRS Hierarchy Rule. As part of their education efforts within their communities, law enforcement agencies can convey how the granularity of offense data helps them better identify and, combat the types of crime in their jurisdictions. The FBI encourages agencies to work with their community leaders and the media to educate the communities they serve about the benefits of NIBRS data. Resources to assist in this effort are available upon request.
In Fairfax County, Col. Roessler proactively engaged the media, providing them with side-by-side comparisons of SRS and NIBRS data. This transparency in the transition allowed Col. Roessler to successfully limit confusion and the spread of misinformation to the public.3 Col. Roessler’s success in engaging the public was an important step for the evolution of law enforcement strategies in Fairfax County. As Col. Roessler notes, Fairfax County is changing from suburban to urban, and the crime trends are changing too. By using NIBRS data to guide strategies, Fairfax County can more effectively deal with changing crime trends.4
NIBRS-compatible software. Some large agencies might be reluctant to participate in NIBRS because they do not wish to switch from their current records management system (RMS) to NIBRS-compatible software. This concern is most likely unfounded. In fact, NIBRS is compatible with many of the commercial RMS software packages offered in the last decade. Agencies can consult their RMS vendor representatives, their RMS technical documentation, or even their state UCR Program to determine what version of NIBRS is compatible with their current RMS software.
Securing funding. Many large cities can obtain funding assistance for NIBRS transition through the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X). The FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) seek to make the NIBRS dataset nationally representative by helping 400 select agencies transition to NIBRS. The FBI and the BJS offer funding and technical assistance for agencies identified in the NCS-X list of 400 to facilitate their NIBRS transition efforts.
Many large city agencies are included in the NCS-X list.5 The NCS-X solicitation is available for only a limited time, so eligible agencies should apply for funding soon. More information is available on the BJS NCS-X webpage.6
Agencies can also benefit from Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funding, which the federal Office of Justice Programs offers to help agencies address violent crime in their communities. The JAG Program currently awards funds based on a combination of population coverage and violent crime numbers as reported through the FBI’s annual SRS publication, Crime in the United States.7 As of right now, the FBI’s figures for Crime in the United States are based on a combination of SRS data from some states and NIBRS data from other states, converted into SRS figures. However, JAG funding regarding violent crime numbers will be based only on NIBRS data after the FBI’s NIBRS transition.8
Seeing the Big Picture
In 2021, when the FBI retires SRS and fully transitions to collecting crime data through NIBRS, large city agencies participating in NIBRS will already be in a position of leadership and partnership. The NIBRS transition can help city agencies foster transparency and accountability, as well as more effectively plan for problems like business crime and youth exposure to crime. Some city agencies might worry about the perceptions, technical considerations, or costs related to NIBRS transition, but these concerns can be easily resolved with proactive strategies and information.
This year is pivotal for agencies that wish to make the transition to NIBRS because the transition usually takes one to two years to complete the process. The FBI has dedicated training resources, personnel, and technical documentation to assist agencies with their transitions to NIBRS. Agencies seeking assistance can call the FBI at 304-625-9999 or email UCR-NIBRS@fbi.gov.
1Edwin Roessler, National Incident-Based Reporting System Transition Task Force Meeting (Nashville, TN, March 14, 2018).
2Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, Effects of NIBRS on Crime Statistics (Clarksburg, WV: Criminal Justice Information Services Division, Fall 2015).
3Roessler, National Incident-Based Reporting System Transition Task Force Meeting.
4Edwin Roessler (chief, Fairfax County Police Department), telephone interview, March 28, 2018.
5 Bureau of Justice Statistics, “NCS-X Sampled Agencies.”
6Bureau of Justice Statistics, “NCS-X: National Crime Statistics Exchange.”
8Bureau of Justice Assistance, “Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program FY 2017 State Solicitation,” (Washington, D.C.: Office of Justice Programs, July 25, 2017), 10-11.