Crime Data Getting Murkier

posted on September 20, 2021

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is set to revamp the crime data it gathers for its reporting system—effective January 1, 2021. This might sound like an obtuse story, but it actually is a big deal. The data the FBI takes from police departments all over the nation affects a lot of legislation—and a lot of academic studies that then make it into the media.

First, it must be said that collecting crime data is no easy business. It is easy to think it should be. The number of murders that occur in a year, in theory, should be easy to calculate, as should the means used by the vast majority of the criminals. But many murders go unsolved. It can be difficult to differentiate an accident or self-inflicted injury from an act by a person committing a crime. It can be hard to say what weapon was used. Often, many crimes have taken place, not just the possible murder. And these unfortunate statistics come from so many sources that it can be hard to verify or collate the data.

This is why it is very hard—often impossible—to compare such data from country to country, as it is gathered and aggregated so differently.

So now the FBI is trying to revamp how it reports this complex data. Though a mandate that this be done by January 1, 2021, was passed in 2015, early reports indicate it is not going well. As this was being written, only 57% of law-enforcement agencies nationwide were actually ready to report via the new National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

This new NIBRS might be better once it is fully implemented, as it will allow up to 10 crimes from the same incident to be reported. Currently, only the most egregious crime within each incident is reported. One worry is that this change will appear to show increases in crime, as more will be reported; as a result, the FBI says it will mitigate this to some degree by reporting via both the new and old methods. They have not, however, indicated how long they will make this data available in both formats.

There is some concern about the additional complexities beyond just the lack of full participation. Unfortunately, crime data is often used in politically and ideologically driven ways by both gun-control and government organizations, so the additional complexity could allow for more obfuscation of the facts.

“The CDC annually published absurd estimates on non-fatal gunshot injuries up until they were called out publicly by The Trace,” noted an NRA-ILA post on this topic. “The CDC has since ceased providing that estimate entirely, though anti-gun researchers continued to cite the ridiculous number long after the hopelessly flawed methodology was exposed.” The CDC had previously also buried data that showed that guns are highly effective self-defense tools.

As the Biden/Harris administration pursues its radical anti-gun agenda, including re-weaponizing the openly anti-gun CDC, will they adhere to their own call for scientific findings to “never be distorted or influenced by political considerations”?

The FBI has been responsible for crime data since 1930. Every year in September, they release the previous year’s data. This information is useful to many, including policy makers, law enforcement, social workers, academics, activists, journalists and, of course, citizens considering where to live and work. America’s 1st Freedom has frequently reported on this data. We will keep you informed with how this big change impacts you and your rights.

(Note: While the FBI system is transitioning, you can still rely on the NRA-ILA crime data tool, which allows for state-to-state comparisons in an easily comprehensible format.)


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