New and Better Crime Data for the Nation

October 5, 2022
Courtesy of FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division Assistant Director Michael A. Christman and Bureau of Justice Statistics Director Alexis R. Piquero

After years of preparation and refinement, the 2021 crime in the nation data release will report not only general trends in violent and property offenses across the nation, but detailed data about those offenses, from the types of weapons used in violent crimes to the value of losses in property offenses. More information—about demographics of the offender and victim and circumstances of the crime—will be available than ever before.

The FBI’s release of crime data in 2021 will be comprised of four parts: NIBRS, 2021NIBRS Estimates, The Transition to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS): A Comparison of 2020 and 2021 NIBRS Estimates, and Crime in United States, 2021. With these estimates, the American public will have access to an unprecedented trove of information about criminal incidents and the circumstances surrounding them.

The revamped report is the product of an overhaul that began almost four decades ago, when the FBI created the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS (pronounced Nigh-burs). The new system was set up to capture context and granularity that had been missing from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program’s long-running Summary Reporting System, the FBI’s data collection mechanism since 1930. In 2015, a recommendation was made by FBI law enforcement partners to retire the Summary Reporting System for NIBRS. In December 2015, the CJIS Advisory Policy Board endorsed the transition with a deadline of January 1, 2021. The FBI messaged to law enforcement agencies it would transition to the more comprehensive NIBRS-only collection.

Over those six years, the FBI and its partners at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, have invested more than $120 million to help state and local law enforcement agencies improve crime data collection. BJS provided an additional $21 million to support training and technical assistance to agencies and to develop statistical estimation procedures that will generate national estimates of crime using the NIBRS data. The estimation techniques, jointly developed by BJS and the FBI, are designed to estimate for nonreporting agencies and account for missing or unknown information within a reported incident, where appropriate.

After a massive investment of time and resources, all 50 states are now certified for NIBRS, and two-thirds of the country is covered by NIBRS-reporting agencies. Some states that reported no NIBRS data just a few years ago, like Nevada and North Carolina, now have a 100% reporting coverage rate. NIBRS participants include 62 of the 85 cities with populations above 250,000 persons.

The switch to NIBRS promises tremendous benefits to policymakers, public safety professionals, researchers and the public. The system captures a larger array of offenses, continuing to record crimes like homicide, robbery and burglary while also measuring crimes like animal cruelty, identity theft and drugs and weapons offenses. It provides demographic information about victims and offenders, including their age and race, that was not available through the old system. It also documents hate crimes, registering details like the time and location of the crime, characteristics of the victim and whether or not an arrest was made.

NIBRS will tell a more complete story about public safety in America. Under the old SRS, law enforcement agencies that responded to a multi-offense incident—where more than one crime was committed—would document only the most serious crime. When someone was murdered during a robbery, only the murder would be reflected in the data. Now, both offenses will be recorded.

The value of this additional information will be immediately clear and will only accrue as more agencies come online. While the submitted data may not be complete for each state, statisticians have developed improved modeling methods to account for missing information, making it possible to ascertain trends and extrapolate information from participating jurisdictions when data are unavailable from others. In light of the FBI’s and BJS’s decades of experience collecting and compiling crime statistics, the analysis using NIBRS estimation data of violent and property crimes from 2020 and 2021 will provide a confident comparison of crime trends across the nation.

It’s important to note that participation in the collection is voluntary; however, the FBI and BJS will continue to work diligently with law enforcement agencies to bring them on as full participants in NIBRS. As we continue increasing participation rates, we can assure every American that the data available through NIBRS are robust and will paint a more vivid picture of crime in the United States.

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Updated October 5, 2022