In October 2022, the FBI released its 2021 report titled Crime in the U.S. Published annually for a century, it is considered the gold standard for data on criminal activity in the U.S. However, the new report – which covered 2021 – lost much of its value because a change in reporting methods caused participation to plummet, with just 63% of the nation’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies submitting any data at all.
The annual snapshot provided by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program has historically allowed law enforcement agencies at all levels – city, state and federal – to track the total number of crimes by category, such as car thefts, murders and robberies, as well as by geography, down to a specific zip code.
But when the FBI tried to modernize reporting in 2021, law enforcement agencies found they could suddenly submit data only through a new system. Since their participation is strictly voluntary, many agencies apparently let their reporting fall through the cracks.
The nonprofit Marshall Project has tracked participation in the program. It found that more than 6,000 of the nation’s 18,000 law agencies – representing roughly one-quarter of the entire U.S. population – were missing from the FBI’s most recent national crime data. Some police departments have started reporting data again to the FBI. However, police in New York City and Los Angeles – the two largest forces in the country – have yet to resume providing data to the FBI. In two of the largest states, Florida and Pennsylvania, less than 10% of law enforcement agencies reported any data at all.
The incomplete participation has real-world consequences for policy makers, who are unable to trust conclusions that the incomplete numbers suggest. Hate crimes, for example, appeared to go down because of missing data from large jurisdictions. After a backlash over this, the FBI went to those thousands of police departments that failed to provide information and got more data. The result? A new report that revealed an almost 12% leap in hate crimes.
Additional Sources: CNN, The Marshall Project
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