A large number of Missouri law enforcement agencies failed to submit crime data to the FBI’s new crime statistics tracking system last year, blaming staff shortages and technical difficulties as the main causes.
According to the nonprofit The Marshall Project, 113 agencies in the state provided no data to the FBI’s new system, while 165 provided partial data. Most of the agencies that did not participate are small, and serve populations of fewer than 8,000 people.
In contrast, 314 agencies in the state provided the FBI with a full report of the annual crime statistics.
Non-participation in the FBI’s crime reporting system is not just isolated to Missouri. Nearly two out of every five agencies nationwide did not file any crime data with the bureau.
This isn’t the first time the FBI has struggled to get local agencies to participate in its data collection programs — it even considered shutting down one program because of a lack of data.
Despite the lack of data, the FBI has decided to go ahead and publish it anyway, believing that the Bureau of Justice Statistics will still be able to analyze the materials to discover important crime trends.
Agencies that failed to submit data cited understaffing and technical difficulties from their third-party record systems. In addition, some agencies were not prepared for the FBI’s announcement last year that it would only publish data reported using the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Since the 1930s, law enforcement agencies’ data was stored and published on the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system.
The NIBRS system, created in the 1980s, allows agencies to import around 50 data points related to criminal incidents, such as time of day and race and age of victims.
This is a contrast to its predecessor, which only mentioned the most serious crime involved in the incident.
The NIBRS fully replaced the older system last year, but some agencies are still figuring out how to submit their data.
Richard Rosenfeld, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said the analysis may not provide accurate results given the spotty data.
“What we’re going to have is a crime rate that’s based on data from just a little over 60% of all the police agencies, and that will exclude many major police departments, including New York City and Los Angeles,” he said.
Ozark Police Department Chief Justin Arnold told the Columbia Missourian that his agency transitioned to the NIBRS on January 1 but missed the deadline for submitting data to the FBI because of technical issues. Apparently, its records management system, operated by Pennsylvania company CODY, was not yet compatible with the FBI’s database.
“We have a lot of that data, but we just had no way — through the portals that you have to utilize — to submit it to the state of Missouri, who then submits it to the FBI,” Arnold explained. “We had no way of importing that data because our [records management system] was not compatible with that at the time. We were at the mercy of our provider for that.”
According to Arnold, CODY was unable to complete the back-end programming necessary for Missouri law enforcement agencies to submit their data to the portal the state uses in conjunction with the FBI.
“I know about other agencies in the state of Missouri that also used CODY, and we were all in the same boat. We were actually communicating with each agency trying to work through these problems,” Arnold said. “I definitely think there are a lot of agencies that were in the same boat as us.”
Arnold added that the agency did not have the financial means to shift away from CODY.
“We couldn’t scrap what we had been doing for a decade and a half as far as utilizing our records management system and all the data we’ve been collecting,” Arnold said.
Maggie Rikers, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, said it is in the process of making adjustments across 18 states.
“There’s a lot of testing and certification that needs to go on, and not just for the vendors, but the agencies themselves,” Rikers said.
Rikers said the company was in the process of modernizing its platform to become web-based in time for the NIBRS switch, but was delayed. She added that it will launch in 2023.
Other agencies, such as the Appleton City Police Department, did not submit data due to a manpower shortage. The city’s police chief resigned over a year ago.
“Some towns just don’t have police departments because they’re small,” St. Claire County Sheriff Lee Hilty said. “Out of my three cities that are supposed to have police departments, I only have one that’s active right now.”
The sheriff said his department had to update all of the data manually rather than relying on an automated system — a process that took weeks.