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A Vendor View of Crime Reporting

The FBI has been collecting crime statistics since the 1930s with the Summary Reporting System (SRS), which was phased out in 2021, and more recently with the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which started in 1988 and continues as the standard crime reporting system in the United States. Although many states are still moving away from SRS, only 19 states have fully transitioned to NIBRS, skewing crime statistics. Crime Reporting has always been challenging for Law Enforcement and normally requires additional resources and time, but those agencies that diligently report are usually eligible for Federal Grants.

Crime Reporting was completed with pencil and paper for years and submitted to the state or FBI via snail mail or electronically. The pencil-in-paper method was replaced by electronic tally sheets powered by spreadsheets and by state websites that would allow agency personnel to type in the required data for Crime Reporting. These intermediate systems worked well for SRS reporting but required agencies to tally and input data into systems manually. NIBRS is a much more versatile and beneficial system for viewing national and local crime activity and trends.

The FBI Crime Data Explorer provides tools for analyzing and visualizing NIBRS Data.

In the past 20 years, it has been much more common for Law Enforcement agencies to seek out Records Management Systems that implement the FBI NIBRS data collection guidelines and validation rules to automate the tasks of Crime Reporting and electronic submission of the data to their state or the FBI.

You would think such a “National” system would make it easy for vendors to develop and implement in any state, but that is certainly not the case.

Difficulties vendors face:

  • Each state can collect additional datasets on top of the required NIBRS data, so vendors must develop and maintain separate sets of source code for each state.

  • Each state has a NIBRS repository system that collects all the data from each state. These repository systems also have the NIBRS data validation rules built into them to ensure data is submitted consistently.

  • Several repository vendors have significant system inconsistencies that force developers to maintain state-specific code.

  • The variety of data submissions and transports permitted (Flat File, XML, Web Services, SFTP) creates further complexities.

  • State Repositories are replaced periodically, forcing vendors to update and re-certify their systems.

  • The FBI or State introduces new rules or reporting requirements that must be supported and certified.

The way that Criminal Codes are handled in each state also creates complexities:

  • The State has not mapped Criminal Codes to NIBRS offenses, and the vendor or agency must make the best guess on how to map them. This can cause inconsistencies between agencies within a state.

  • The state has mapped Criminal Codes to NIBRS Offenses. Still, the vendor cannot make static mappings, meaning the user must associate the Crime Code to a NIBRS offense in every incident, which introduces a lot of human error.

These difficulties and challenges usually force vendors to focus efforts on a handful of states for NIBRS reporting. Some vendors go the route of providing very generic solutions that do not meet the specific needs of a state.


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