Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies in the U.S., including in cities like New York City and Los Angeles, failed to report annual crime data to the FBI in 2021 for its annual nationwide crime report.
The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism outlet focused on crime, reported Tuesday that the failure of the agencies to get the data to the FBI will "leave a data gap" that will make it hard for analysts to spot crime trends in various locations and fact check politicians’ claims about crime reports.
"It's going to be really hard for policymakers to look at what crime looks like in their own community and compare it to similar communities," Jacob Kaplan, a criminologist at Princeton University, told The Marshall Project.
In addition to smaller agencies, the data gap includes numbers from New York City and Los Angeles, the nation's biggest cities.
According to the FBI, the federal agency has been collecting data from police agencies across the country since 1930, known as the Uniform Crime Report, which used a standardized voluntary reporting system to compile data for criminal justice students and researchers from more than 18,000 different agencies.
The standardized Summary Reporting System was phased out in 2021 in favor of a “more robust” National Incident-Based Reporting System, which was designed to collect more detailed crime information of each reported incident, according to the FBI.
While the federal government spent millions to help departments switch to the new system by last year, some 7,000 agencies did not send data to the program during 2021, The Marshall Project report found.
"The more detailed the data, the more effective our police can be ... when we look back at 2021 numbers, they're not going to be particularly useful," John Roman, a senior fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago, told Axios.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics lists about $160 million in grants given out through September 2020 to agencies prior to the system switch to prepare them to use it.
The gap makes the numbers available not as reliable as they had been under the old system for policymakers to compare crime rates in similar communities.
"I don't think you could get national numbers, at least not useful national numbers, from this data," Kaplan told The Marshall Project. "It's going to be really hard for policymakers to look at what crime looks like in their own community and compare it to similar communities."
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