On the face of it, a report earlier this summer from the Marshall Project on the FBI’s new crime-reporting system was damning.
Thousands of police departments across the country were not using the system, even though the FBI implemented it in January 2021, the nonprofit news organization reported.
The Watchdog review found that only 41 of Pennsylvania’s 1,501 law enforcement agencies are using the new system.
The most worrying: no county department is part of it. Neither does the Pennsylvania State Police, which covers more than 20 of the county’s 60 municipalities, mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the county.
The watchdog wondered, what’s going on? Why are our law enforcement agencies not doing their part in the fight against crime?
The answer to these questions is quite complicated.
The new FBI system is not mandatory. Police departments both locally and across the country cite funding, training and a lack of technology as barriers to adopting the federal government’s new reporting system.
But it’s not like the Lancaster County police are sitting on their hands. City and state police departments here always report the data they collect to the Pennsylvania State Police, which makes it public. In fact, police services are required under Pennsylvania law to report crime statistics months or risk of loss of funding and grant opportunities.
But when the FBI switched to the new system, it stopped accepting data the way it had — that’s how Pennsylvania departments still report to state police. Thereby The Marshall Projectfound that few Pennsylvania police departments send data to the FBI.
How did we come here?
For nearly a century, law enforcement has recognized that collecting and studying data is essential to understanding crime.
Beginning in 1930, the FBI took over data collection from police departments nationwide, which had been sharing data with each other since the 1920s.
The FBI released reports through the Uniform Crime Reporting Program to provide information on homicides, rapes, assaults, burglaries, and robberies to law enforcement, criminologists, and the public.
The crimes have not changed. But times – and data collection capabilities – have.
Several decades ago, the FBI began developing a more detailed system of collecting crime data from police departments across the country, a system intended to provide a more complete picture of crime in its annual report.” Crime in the United States”.
It’s called the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS.
“The transition to the richer NIBRS data standard will provide greater context at the national level to enable the FBI and its contributing agencies to identify and address evolving crime issues,” the FBI wrote to LNP | LancasterOnline in response to written questions about switching to the program.
The NIBRS collects significantly more data than the previous system, such as victim and offender demographics, any relationship between the offender and the victim, whether multiple crimes were involved, and the type of weapon. It also collects details about where and when a crime happened and if it was solved.
Adoption of NIBRS in Pennsylvania
Although police departments can submit NIBRS data themselves, the FBI prefers that the departments report to a state agency, which in turn submits the data to the FBI.
The Pennsylvania State Police has not yet transitioned to NIBRS, so police departments reported data under the old summary reporting system.
Capt. Brent Miller said in an email Wednesday that the agency was “working on a software compatibility issue that was discovered with its vendor when the data was submitted to the FBI.” PSP is taking the necessary steps to ensure the data is accurate and data pushes will resume in the coming months.
Miller also noted that reporting under the NIBRS is voluntary, which he says has slowed adoption of the new system by many local departments.
“A challenge for some agencies is the time it takes to transition to NIBRS and the cost to do so, which may be beyond the control of the agency due to the development of supporting software needed to accommodate the additional reports,” Miller said.
The Watchdog asked county police chiefs about the transition to NIBRS.
Several chiefs who responded cited the additional training as a challenge, as well as the need to upgrade existing case management systems to accept and submit NIBRS data.
“It’s a state problem, not a local problem. PSP is the clearing house, we cannot directly submit to the FBI,” said West Earl Township Police Chief Eric Higgins. He said his officers were trained on NIBRS in July and the department’s records management system vendor was awaiting certification from the state police.
Manheim Township Chief Thomas Rudzinski said in a written response to The Watchdog that the NIBRS “requires a lot of extra work from the patrol officer…It’s not that we don’t want to do it. work to report to NIBRS – we have just prioritized responding to our calls (Uniform Crime Reporting) is handled solely by Civil Records staff, NIBRS will require more involved input from officers.
Manheim Township, which also provides policing services to Lancaster Township, is the second-busiest county and handled nearly 39,000 dispatches in 2021, of which 2,252 were crimes, he said.
Manheim Township and other county departments said they had taken training on NIBRS reporting, were in the process of doing so, or would begin training soon.
Rudzinski said in an email that the training will come at a cost, but “the biggest ‘cost’ will be having fewer patrollers responding to calls and engaged in active patrols. It remains to be seen whether more staff and archival agents will be needed to compensate for the extra work, but that is a separate issue.
Rudzinski also warned that since so much more data is collected under the NIBRS, “it will inadvertently show an increase in crime over the previous year” when it comes into effect.
One reason for this is that under the old system, the FBI counted only the most serious crime, even if multiple misdemeanors occurred at the same time.
The NIBRS “is more complex and requires specific information,” said Columbia chief Jack Brommer.
Lancaster Police Lt. Philip Berkheiser said his current records management system provider is moving to an online system which may be available later this year for some departments but may not be more widely available until next year.
Berkheiser said the department will meet with its supplier next month to get costs and other information so it can decide whether to stick with it or seek another supplier. Indeed, its vendor has indicated that it may not support the current version of the department after 2025.
Once that decision is made, Berkheiser said, “we will be in a better position to successfully transition to NIBRS.”