Jun 14, 2022 - News

Colorado agencies ahead of the curve on crime reporting

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

Colorado law enforcement agencies performed better than many of their counterparts across the country in reporting 2021 crime statistics to the FBI, according to data provided to Axios by The Marshall Project, a criminal justice watchdog organization.

Why it matters: Unlike residents of other cities and states, Coloradans can expect access to comprehensive data showing trends in local crime, including in metro Denver.

  • Access to reliable and widespread data helps "paint a more vivid, accurate picture," and "you need that to develop strategies" to address the root issues of crime, Denver police chief Paul Pazen told Axios Denver.

The big picture: 95% of the 247 Colorado law enforcement agencies in The Marshall Project's dataset submitted crime statistics for 2021.

  • In contrast, about 40% of law enforcement agencies nationwide submitted nothing, including police departments in New York City and Los Angeles.

Zoom in: Local law enforcement agencies are required by state statute to submit crime data to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which shares that data with the FBI.

  • Agencies for all the state's major cities β€” including Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora β€” participated in 2021.
  • Just 12 Colorado departments (covering areas with small populations) failed to submit data.
Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios Visuals
Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios Visuals

What they're saying: Several agencies that didn't report, including Greenwood Village and Federal Heights, told Axios Denver it was for technical reasons, and that their old systems weren't compatible with the FBI's new National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

  • "Our NIBRS reporting module was completed just before the reporting deadline, and we're working through the backlog to submit our complete data," said Federal Heights interim police chief Mike Domenighini. "Our intention is to always report federal data in a timely manner β€” technical issues notwithstanding."

The backdrop: Last year, the FBI retired its nearly century-old crime data collection program and switched to NIBRS, which 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.
  • Colorado, meanwhile, began transitioning to the new system in 2013 to prepare for the swap.

The bottom line: "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, said.

Of note: The FBI told The Marshall Project in a statement that agencies had until early March to be included in a full-year report, so final participation figures may vary.

What to watch: The 2020 data showed that violent crime hit a 25-year high in Colorado.

  • The full figures for 2021, expected to be released by the fall, will likely be a top issue in the midterm elections.

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