The FBI’s latest statistics show violent crime dropped in the US last year — but the data fails to account for thousands of places, including in big cities like New York and Los Angeles.
Experts say the data, released as part of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report on Wednesday, has some glaring holes due to an “overwhelming” lack of participation by police.
Nearly 40% of all law enforcement agencies — including in the nation’s two largest cities — failed to submit any data to the feds, who reported that violent crimes ticked down by about 1% across the country, from 1,326,600 in 2020 to 1,313,200 in 2021.
The figures were the first glimpse at the FBI’s new data collection system, which is voluntary and has been touted for years as a “much deeper” look at crime in the US.
But experts are already setting off alarms about using the figures.
“The overwhelming lack of law enforcement participation presents a challenge when assessing the true state of nationwide crime in America,” said Jillian Snider, the policy director for the R Street Institute’s criminal justice and civil liberties team.
Snider, a retired NYPD cop, said everyone should “proceed with caution” in using this data for new criminal justice policy.
Josh Sugarmann, executive director at the Violence Policy Center, called the change to how the data is collected “a devastating decision that has come at the worst possible time.”
“We’re in a crisis as far as gun homicide in this country … and communities are looking for answers. We have the highest numbers we’ve ever seen regarding gun homicides, with the least amount of information available that we’ve ever seen.”
“What’s striking, just going through it, is that some of the states that have the most comprehensive reporting systems in place are those that have the lowest participation in the NIBRS program, states like California, New York, New Jersey,” he added.
In New York, where gun violence has plagued the Big Apple and other metro areas, 1 in 4 police departments — 469 of 593 — failed to report any crime data.
That includes the largest department in the country, the NYPD, which is often held up as the trendsetter for US law enforcement.
A spokesperson said the NYPD was in the process of transitioning to the new reporting system, but did not answer questions about its timeline or if it accepted any federal grants to get the system up and running.
Over in New Jersey, 177 of its 578 departments handed in their crime stats. Pennsylvania had a worse report card, with only 40 of its 1,504 submitting info on crimes.
Florida came in last with only two law enforcement agencies — or .26% of its 757 departments — participating.
Only a handful had 100% buy-in, such as Connecticut and Delaware.
Experts agree that the new system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which replaced the UCT Program’s traditional Summary Reporting System, does provide greater insight into crime trends — but since the program is voluntary, the data will be limited.
“The government can’t make the states do this but they can offer various versions of carrots and sticks and things like that,” Sugarmann said, referring to the series of grants offered to make the transition since 2015.
The feds, however, deserve some of the blame for the lack of data, Sugarmann said.
“They [the FBI] basically said, ‘Okay, as of this date, we only have one system.’ They didn’t have to do that,” he said, noting authorities could have continued to collect data using their old method for departments that have not transitioned.