Jun 14, 2022 - News

Arkansas crime stats will be apples to oranges

2021 Arkansas FBI crime data reporting
Data: FBI, The Marshall Project; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios Visuals

About 87% of Arkansas law enforcement agencies reported 2021 crime data to the FBI, outpacing the national average of about 60%.

  • Detailed reporting statistics were provided to Axios by The Marshall Project, a nonprofit U.S. criminal justice watchdog.

Why it matters: Researchers use crime statistics to analyze contributing factors, correlations and the geography of crime.

  • More consistent data provides a clearer, more accurate picture of what's happening on the ground to better inform lawmakers as they shape public policy.

Yes, and: Since about 40% of the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies didn't report 2021 crime stats to the FBI, it will result in a data gap that makes it harder to analyze national trends and fact-check claims that politicians make about crime in their communities.

  • "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.

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

Flashback: Last year, FBI data showed the violent crime rate in Arkansas hit an all-time high, well above the U.S. rate. While the Arkansas rate is probably accurate, a University of Arkansas professor told Axios the comparison to national data is flawed due to under-reporting in other states.

By the numbers: Of the 307 enforcement agencies in Arkansas, only 39 — about 13% — did not report crime data to the FBI, according to The Marshall Project.

  • Of note: Arkansas State Police was one of those; however, data for incidents in which ASP assists is reported by local law enforcement agencies.

Zoom in: Four NWA police departments show up as not reporting data to the FBI.

  • Officials with Centerton and Springdale told Axios their agencies had issues with software transitions.
  • Chief Jason Travis of Goshen told Axios that previous chiefs had not reported NIBRS data, but he's updated software and will be reporting consistently.
  • Lt. Keith Lawson with Cave Springs said the agency missed the FBI's March 7 deadline due to some clerical issues.
  • All four have since submitted their available data for 2021.

What to watch: While The Marshall Project report reveals who reported data, it doesn't go into detail about what the crime data is.

  • The FBI generally releases crime stats in the fall.

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