Jun 14, 2022 - News

Des Moines police didn't report crime data to the FBI in 2021

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

The Des Moines Police Department failed to report its 2021 crime data to the FBI, according to information provided to Axios from a partnership with The Marshall Project.

  • The DMPD is a part of the 40% of law enforcement agencies nationwide, including departments in New York City and Los Angeles, that did not submit any data in 2021.
  • Of note: It's voluntary for police departments to report the information.

Why it matters: Des Moines police are part of 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, according to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan U.S. criminal justice watchdog group.

  • "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.

What happened: The police department transitioned to a new record management system and was unable to provide the numbers prior to the FBI's deadline to report crimes from 2021, said Sgt. Paul Parizek, spokesperson for DMPD.

  • DMPD's new software wasn't compatible with the state's system, which is used for reporting data to the FBI. Transferring over records required a manual fix, but there wasn't enough staffing to do it in time, Parizek said.

What they're saying: A major issue in reporting data is there are varying phrases used to categorize crimes, Parizek said.

  • "There's really no universal language," he said.

For example: If someone requested larceny numbers from Des Moines police, it wouldn't be able to provide it because that's not recognized under Iowa code.

  • Instead, larcenies are classified under thefts, which are further separated under misdemeanors and felonies.
  • Internally, the police department relies on its own calls for service data for identifying trends.

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, according to The Marshall Project.

  • 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 in 2021.

The bottom line: Des Moines police just successfully submitted its May 2022 data to the state.

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