INDIANAPOLIS — Each September the FBI publishes its Uniform Crime Report for the previous year, a compilation of figures regarding police reports that paint a statistical picture of crime across America.
Last year, violent crime was down a half percent across the U.S and property crime was off 4.1%.
Indianapolis’ 2019 numbers are not reflected in this year’s FBI report.
“We sent our information in time to the State which is kind of the in-between between us and the FBI,” said IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey. “They sent the information to the FBI and there was some kind of software snafu or issue with how the numbers were sent to them. It came back to the State for some repairs and the bottom line is we had some technical issues … and those systems just didn’t talk right and therefore we sent the information and missed the deadline to be published.”
Indianapolis’ absence from the FBI annual report comes at a time when federal authorities and local police departments are struggling to implement a new reporting system that may result in higher though more accurate crime statistics.
“A few years ago, the FBI decided to change the system from that UCR to the National Incident Based Reporting System which looks at each individual incident to give you a better understanding of what crime looks like throughout the country,” said Bailey. “Under UCR, if you had a murder, a rape and a robbery at the same time in one incident, UCR would only count the murder. Under the NIBRS system, each one of those would be a tic mark as a crime committed.”
As a result, pre-NIBRS statistics from 2018 may not be a true apples-to-apples comparison with post-NIBRS data in 2019 and beyond.
Dr. Jeremy Carter of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI said researchers, academics, police departments and communities rely on accurate statistics to understand the impact of crime in the city and how to fashion programs to address it.
“The value of data lays in the specificity of the data, so where did it happen, when did it happen, who was involved, what are the nuances of those events that you can use to develop strategies to partner with people and problem solve,” he said.
Dr. Sean Nicholson-Crotty of the O’Neill School at IU said inaccuracy in data can handicap the efforts of IMPD and city leaders to fashion such a response.
“It does hamper the ability to study crime in Indianapolis, as well as the ability to examine the impact IMPD actions on crime rates. For example, if down the road any one wants to examine the impact of the change in general orders in 2020, they will be missing the data from what would be an obvious (perhaps the most obvious) comparison year.”
Accurate 2020 crime statistics will be a challenge for both analysts and IMPD as the city and the police department will consider the impact of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement for social justice on policing reform and anti-crime initiatives.
Currently, the City County Council is considering proposals to add more civilian oversight to IMPD’s General Orders process and its Use of Force review.
“I think it will be interesting to look at how that information is used as we have these discussions about funding levels nationally, how we use this data to look at how we maybe reappropriate some resources,” said Carter, “but from IMPD’s perspective, I think it is very limited because they are so understaffed as is.”
Bailey said IMPD has received a grant to pay for the writing of a computer program to permit the translation of the statistics from the two programs into a simplified format.
“The numbers are there,” he said. “We just have to figure out a way to translate them.”