Crime Expert Disagrees That Crime Data Can’t Be Tracked

The FBI is missing approximately 40% of state and local crime data due to a lack of reporting. The lack of data is leading many to speculate that it’s difficult to draw conclusions, but a crime expert disagrees.

Over 7,000 law enforcement agencies haven’t reported crime data and almost 4,000 reported partial data after a switch in reporting systems. The FBI previously used the Summary Reporting System used by the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program but switched to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to get more specific information about criminal activity.

Weihua Li, the original author of the report for the Marshall Project, told The Daily Caller, “The short answer is we may never get definitive evidence on whether the crime rate has risen or declined, because the 2021 national crime data will miss almost 40% of law enforcement agencies.”

Others disagree. Charles Lehman, a crime data expert in policing and public safety at the Manhattan Institute, said that crime trends are still observable.

Lehman said, “We know in national data that murder, shootings, and car theft all rose in 2020, largely following the George Floyd protests. We know from city-level data that the homicide trend continued, meaning the shooting trend likely did as well because the only difference between a shooting and a homicide is the aim. We know that many individual cities are struggling with more petty crime and disorder.”

Taking city-level data, even from cities that weren’t able to report through NIBRS, can be viewed and studied. Yes, 7,000 law enforcement agencies is a lot of data to track, but to suggest it’s not available isn’t accurate.

Lehman added, “I have no doubt that there will be many in the ‘criminal justice reform’ movement who will argue that claims of rising crime are baseless, given the problems with the FBI’s data—eliding what we know from city-level or state-level data—and then imply that this means violent crime isn’t really going up at all.

New York’s data show that shooting incidents involving injury are up 3.8%, shooting victims (person hit) are up 2.9%, and individuals killed by gun violence is up 3.4% across the state.

Lehman said that it was “laughable to suggest” that Americans aren’t going to notice a rise in crime rates in their backyard. Because local data is all that’s available to show crime trends, there’s going to be a shift in political debate and could potentially alter public perception of police and the response that’s necessary.