Jun 14, 2022 - News

Comparing Central Texas crime stats to other communities gets harder

Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios Visuals

Texas law enforcement agencies performed better than many counterparts across the country at reporting annual crime statistics to the FBI last year, according to data provided to Axios from a partnership with The Marshall Project.

The big picture: In Texas, 73% of the roughly 1,200 jurisdictions in The Marshall Project's data set submitted crime statistics covering all 12 months of 2021.

  • The Austin and Round Rock police departments and the Travis County Sheriff's Office, among other Central Texas law enforcement agencies, submitted 12 months of stats.

Yes, but: Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies around the country, including departments in New York City and Los Angeles, did not submit any data in 2021.

Why it matters: The lack of data nationally makes it harder to analyze crime trends, per The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan U.S. criminal justice watchdog. And this deficit could be exploited by politicians in midterm election campaigns, which are already dominated by public fears over a rise in violent 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) gathers more specific information on each incident.

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

What happened: The Round Rock Police Department has provided crime statistics to the FBI for many years, RRPD spokesperson Nick Olivier told Axios.

Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios Visuals

For reasons that are emblematic of why other Central Texas departments provide this information, Olivier said Round Rock passes it along because:

  • The federal government requests it.
  • It is a requirement of the department's accreditation agency.
  • It helps the department apply for and receive grant funding.
  • It helps the department compare Round Rock's statistics with those of other agencies.
  • It goes toward the department's goal of transparency by making stats available to the public.

What they're saying: "To ensure reports and incidents are not over-reported, the local law enforcement agencies who have jurisdictional oversight are the primary agency responsible for reporting this type of incident data in Texas," Ericka Miller, spokesperson for the state Department of Public Safety, told Axios.

The bottom line: The data shows that violent crime hit a high in Texas in 1991.

  • Expect to hear more about the state's crime stats as the November election nears.

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