Jun 14, 2022 - News

Most metro Atlanta, Georgia, law enforcement agencies report crime data

Months of 2021 FBI crime data reported in Georgia, by agency
Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios Visuals

Most of metro Atlanta and Georgia's law enforcement agencies performed better than many other counterparts across the country when it comes to reporting 2021 crime data to the FBI, according to data provided to Axios from a partnership with The Marshall Project.

  • Statewide, roughly 70% of Georgia law enforcement did report. Nationwide, that percentage was closer to 60%.

Why it matters: Law enforcement agencies in Georgia — most of which were larger departments in urban areas — bucked a trend that will result in a data gap that makes it harder to analyze crime trends and fact-check claims politicians make about crime.

  • "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.

The backdrop: Last year, the FBI retired its nearly century-old national crime data collection program and switched to a new system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which gathers more specific information on each incident.

  • Even though the FBI announced the transition years ago and the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help local police make the switch, nearly 7,000 of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies did not send crime data to the voluntary program in 2021.

The big picture: Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies around the country, including the New York and Los Angeles police departments, did not submit any data in 2021.

Context: Each month, law enforcement agencies upload data to the state's Crime Information Center, which then submits the data to the FBI, says Nelly Miles, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesperson.

What happened: Law enforcement agencies in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and many of their cities — including the city of Atlanta, the state’s largest force — all reported submitting some or all data for 2021 to the FBI.

Yes, but: Public safety officials contacted by Axios Atlanta blamed no or partial data reports on technical issues stemming from the FBI changing over to a new system or a lack of funding to upgrade their systems. "There are still some agencies that are still handwriting reports, or they might be using Word," a GBI official tells Axios Atlanta. "Funding for that, it's hard for them."

  • Before the transition, Savannah police spokesperson Bianca Johnson tells Axios Atlanta, the department submitted data to the FBI's old program. It can't submit data to the agency’s new system, NIBRS, until the department replaces its "extremely old" records management system, she says.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Department said its data team did not learn its system was not accurately submitting data until Axios Atlanta’s inquiry. Maj. Steve Morris, a sheriff's spokesperson, said officials were in the process of fixing it "sooner rather than later."

The Gwinnett County Police Department — the second-largest police agency in Georgia — blamed initial errors on an old reporting system in an "end of life state," says Sgt. J.R. Richter, a spokesperson.

  • The force purchased a new system, and after getting GBI's approval, GCPD is now reporting crime statistics, Richter says.
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