Jun 14, 2022 - News

Utah's crime data reporting to the FBI is exceptionally complete

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

Most Utah police departments reported their 2021 crime data to the FBI — even as many of the nation's largest law enforcement agencies failed to do so, according to data provided to Axios in partnership with the Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan U.S. criminal justice watchdog.

Why it matters: Utah bucked a trend that will result in a data gap that experts say makes it harder to analyze crime trends and fact-check claims politicians make about crime, per The Marshall Project.

  • "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.

By the numbers: About 70% of Utah's police departments reported at least 10 months of crime data to the FBI last year, the analysis found.

  • The 23 agencies that did not report any data are nearly all small, rural departments.
  • The Lehi Police Department was the largest agency that did not report — but state data analysts say the department is actively trying to shift its records system to complete the report. Lehi did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

Zoom out: Just under half of U.S. police agencies reported at least 10 months of data last year.

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

The backdrop: Last year, the FBI started requiring departments to submit information via the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), which gathers more detail than the FBI used to ask for, according to The Marshall Project.

  • 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 departments did not send crime data in 2021.
  • Some of the nation's largest departments — including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — did not submit complete data.

State of play: Most of Utah's large police departments already switched to NIBRS at least a decade ago, said Mandy Biesinger, who oversees crime stats for the state Department of Public Safety.

  • "NIBRS is the better reporting system" because it illuminates specific crime trends that allow police to plan how they allocate resources, Biesinger said.
  • For example, rather than simply tallying homicides, NIBRS shows whether domestic violence or gangs are driving an increase.

The latest: Under a 2018 state law, Utah departments are required to submit crime data according to FBI norms.

  • The law doesn't authorize the state to penalize agencies that are out of compliance, but they could lose eligibility for some grant funding.
  • State data collectors remind agencies that don't submit information each month and offer assistance if needed.

The bottom line: Utah's compliance with crime reporting is high because "it's just been a priority for our state," Biesinger said. "We recognize the importance of this information — the value for law enforcement and also for the public."


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