FBI statistics have long been seen as a reliable reflection of national crime data and trends, but critics say the bureau has recently released misleading reports that do not accurately reveal the true scope of the issue.
Beginning last year, the FBI adopted what it described as a standardized reporting method that was denounced by some for not representing the full picture of crime across the country. Although the agency has since sought to roll back that controversial system, some say the method that will replace it has deep flaws of its own.
Ongoing backlash stems from the FBI’s decision to exclude its Summary Reporting System from the two-tiered system that also included data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System. By relying only on the NIBRS, however, data from about two-fifths of all reporting agencies was not included, thus skewing the results of any year-over-year crime rate comparisons.
Many law enforcement agencies — most notably the Los Angeles Police Department and New York Police Department — did not switch from the SRS and their crime reports were not factored into the FBI’s 2022 statistics. Nevertheless, the bureau used its incomplete set of data to declare that violent crime decreased by nearly 2% between 2021 and 2022.
To its credit, the FBI acknowledged in March 2022 that it did not have sufficient data and declined to provide its usual quarterly crime estimates for the prior year. The bureau also reinstated its previous combined reports, collectively known as the Uniform Crime Reporting system, but that has also been denounced as incomplete and misleading.
Roughly 17% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies did not submit any data for last year and, since 2022 results would be compared to the fundamentally flawed 2021 results, any attempt to accurately compare the two years’ crime statistics would be impossible.
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…
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“You miss the full story when you have incomplete and patchy data,” advised Insha Rahman of the Vera Institute of Justice. “The issue of crime is deeply weaponized and politicized and we see that come up, especially during election cycles.”
Data analyst Jeff Asher stressed the importance of providing reliable crime statistics, noting that most people rely on “how they feel and what they see in the media” to shape their view of crime trends on the macro level.
“But we can use these statistics to help shape conversations, show trends, and see where we need to pay more attention,” he concluded.