According to The Crime Report, the rise in murders in the U.S. slowed in 2021, increasing just 4 percent last year after surging nearly 30 percent in 2020, while overall violent crimes dropped 1 percent for the year, reports Zusha Elinson for the Wall Street Journal.
However, national crime estimates for 2021 are based on unusually low participation by local law-enforcement agencies, with only roughly 65 percent of law-enforcement agencies submitting at least partial data to the new National Incident-Based Reporting System in 2021, compared with 95 percent in recent years.
Law-enforcement agencies have been slow to switch over to the new system and agencies in three of the most-populous states—California, Florida and New York—didn’t report figures, including departments in New York City and Los Angeles.
According to Priya Krishnakumar for CNN, only 52 percent of all agencies submitted a full year’s worth of data. The data collection system, called NIBRS (National Incident Based Reporting System), requires greater detail in logging crimes, which the FBI said has lowered participation rates and, as a result, the 2021 report relies heavily on estimates.
The new report estimates an overall decline in violent crime by 1 percent from 2020, driven largely by reductions in the robbery rate, which declined by 8.9 percent.
The FBI announced that it was transitioning away from its previous data reporting system, the UCR Summary Reporting System (SRS) in 2015, estimating then that they expected an initial participation rate of 75 percent.
Critics said the new system has caused short=term problems in interpreting and analyzing the data.
“These data will be difficult to compare to the past given the large drop in reporting agencies,” Ernesto Lopez, research specialist for the Council on Criminal Justice said in a statement.
“(But) as more cities report using NIBRS, and reporting is more uniform throughout the country, this will not be as large of an issue.”
All the same, the transition has made the figures more politically charged than usual, and some of the key data differences make the data subject to confusion by the media, said Laura Bennett, Director of the Center for Just Journalism.
“Crime data is so diffuse and so hodge-podge,” Bennett said.
There is a smaller issue of the hierarchy rule in the Summary Reporting System (which most people just called the UCR) that is not present in NIBRS, experts told TCR.
In short, if someone is assaulted during a robbery the only crime that counted for statistical purposes was the robbery. Now, both the robbery and the assault would be counted. In other words, as a function of the hierarchy rule, some crimes were undercounted and these crimes will more accurately be reflected using NIBRS.
The FBI claimed in 2019 that the NIBRS hierarchy changes would lead to more accurate offense reporting.
A guide to interpreting the data can be downloaded here.
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