Next year, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) will become the national crime data collection program. The result will be more robust and complete data for law enforcement, researchers, and the public.
And while the transition to NIBRS is new, publishing reliable, informative crime statistics has been part of the FBI’s role since its earliest days. This transition is the latest in a more than 90-year effort to ensure police and communities have accurate crime data.
Here are some key facts about NIBRS:
1. NIBRS will have better data. That makes police more effective and communities safer. The original UCR data collection, the Summary Reporting System (SRS), has existed in some form since the 1920s. But NIBRS, which was created in the 1980s, offers much more detail and context around crimes. NIBRS has more thorough data and will help law enforcement target their resources to fight crime effectively. For example, SRS only counts the most serious crime at one particular incident. So, if there is a robbery and a murder at the same time and place, SRS would only count the murder. NIBRS will count both the robbery and the murder and provide much more context, such as the day and time of the crime and the relationship of the victim to the offender.
2. Most of the country has already transitioned to NIBRS. Many more agencies plan to by the beginning of next year. Transitioning to NIBRS requires technological upgrades and staff time for police departments across the country. To help, the FBI partnered with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to increase the number of NIBRS participants. This helps create nationally representative crime statistics using NIBRS data through the National Crime Statistics Exchange initiative. Through this initiative, the FBI and the BJS provided more than $120 million in financial support to state and local agencies to help them move to NIBRS.
This transition has been in progress since 2015, when the January 1, 2021 deadline for the transition to NIBRS was set by the FBI and law enforcement partners. (The deadline was not pushed back due to the pandemic because departments were already years into the transition when the pandemic began early 2020.) In 2021, the FBI expects 75% of law enforcement agencies to have moved to NIBRS. Those departments serve more than 80% of the U.S. population.
3. Crime statistics experts will use statistical modeling to fill in gaps. In the current SRS system, FBI and Department of Justice statisticians use advanced methodologies to estimate national crime statistics when a particular state or locality doesn’t provide data, or the data does not meet the criteria to be published. The same will occur with NIBRS. When estimates are used, they will be disclosed.
While communities that have not transitioned may be missing data for a year or two, estimates will still allow people to understand crime patterns and national trends. Those communities will have more comprehensive data after they make the switch to NIBRS.
4. Researchers and the public will still have access to long-term trends. Even with the transition to NIBRS, the public will still be able to see long-term crime trends. That’s because the FBI will convert the NIBRS data back into the SRS format, specifically for long-term trend analysis. This will offer researchers and the public an “apples to apples” comparison.
5. The FBI is working to help law enforcement transition to NIBRS. For more than five years, the FBI has worked with law enforcement agencies across the country to provide technical expertise, data integration support, and free training to move to NIBRS. Federal grants are also available to help them with the cost of upgrades.
The transition to NIBRS is a shift for police departments, both culturally and technologically, but the higher quality data will be worth the effort in the long term.