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Episode 13: Is Your Agency Ready for NIBRS? w/ Ellie Bennett

Kristen Goode  | 23 May 2019  |  4 minute read


Police departments across the country are dreading a huge crime wave that may strike in January, 2021.

The truth on the streets won’t be changing. This feared new crime wave is a statistical one.

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After the 2021 deadline, police departments will have to change how they report crime from the 111-year old Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) to National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

“The main difference between UCR and NIBRS is that UCR had what’s called a hierarchy rule; in the event that multiple offenses happen in a given incident, only report the top offense.” — Ellie Bennett

For example, if there is a murder and a rape, with UCR you just record the murder. With NIBRS, you record both crimes.

Back when UCR was devised in 1908, it was an analog time where all the numbers were crunched by hand. Today’s technology can handle all the crime data you can throw at it.

NIBRS is designed to paint a fuller picture of events. Unlike UCR, it also now records information on the victim, the offender, and any property that was involved. It will help create more transparency.

On this episode of the Pinpoint podcast, we do a deep dive into the changes police can expect from NIBRS reporting.

We spoke with Ellie Bennett, a Product Manager at Mark43, who also happens to be one of our in-house NIBRS experts.

There Won’t Be a Huge Jump in Crime Numbers

Looking at the departments that have already adopted the new reporting methodology, the actual numbers don’t show a huge uptick.

FBI statistics say somewhere in the realm of 10% of incidents actually have multiple offenses. That leads, on an aggregate basis, to about a 2% increase. But in terms of murder and rape, there is no statistically significant impact.

NIBRS additional data elements increase transparency. Parallel to this NIBRS transition, the FBI has rolled out an online site called the Crime Data Explorer, which makes all of this NIBRS data available to agencies and members of the public.

With this increased data transparency, agencies have more control over the true story of what’s going on in their area.

Preparing for the NIBRS Transition

There are a few main points that can help agencies make this transition.

The first task is finding a Records Management System (RMS) vendor that facilitates the collection of the additional data elements that come with NIBRS reporting. Ideally, you’ll find an RMS vendor that makes it really easy, so there’s minimal user impact. You want a true partner that will make the transition as seamless as possible.

Second, you need to prepare for the inevitability that NIBRS necessitates more data collection than UCR did. No matter how seamless an RMS makes it to collect that data, the officers are going to need to add more information to their reports.

That means a training component on a tactical level, making sure that all users of your RMS have an understanding of what the NIBRS transition will entail.

Tools to Help with the Transition

At Mark 43, our first task is making it as easy as possible for officers to collect this information, while allowing them to get back in the field. We want the statistical reporting requirements to be almost an afterthought.

For example, when NIBRS offers a standardized list of weapon codes that can be reported on any given incident, Mark 43 has created flexible fields that so that officers can enter whatever information they actually want.

On the records side, the error resolution for NIBRS is as seamless as possible. Automated systems ensure that all the requisite data is there, and that no validation errors need to be resolved before sending the information to the state.

Making This a Frictionless Process

The first point is not overwhelming the user with all of the requirements that NIBRS sets out. Mark 43 has dynamically hidden and shown fields based on the offense that the officer is reporting.

For example, based on the weapon used, an incident could be a simple or aggravated assault. There are certain weapon codes that NIBRS will accept: automatic weapon, handgun, rifle, etc. When a weapon doesn’t appear on the comprehensive list, that could cause a problem.

A good example of this would be a taser. There’s no NIBRS code for taser. Mark 43 allows an officer to add in taser. Behind the scenes, there is a framework to map taser to the NIBRS reportable code. This enables the officer to report in a standardized way without having to spend time trying to hack the system.

“It’s important to remember that no system of crime reporting is perfect.” — Ellie Bennett

Potential Hiccups within the NIBRS System

The officer needs to report as accurately as possible the details of the incident, but sometimes the system asks them to navigate seemingly random required fields.

For example, if you’re going to classify an aggravated assault, your victim must have a major injury. Sometimes there are certain offenses that can’t occur together in the same report.

There are other rules that may not necessarily make intuitive sense to an officer, such as requiring a user to specify if property was involved in a kidnapping. Maybe that isn’t so intuitive because ransom kidnappings don’t happen very often.

Another example may be, in a human trafficking offense, establishing that no true crime actually occurred because it was a sting operation.

Learning to overcome these NIBRS nuances comes down to training and working with your RMS vendor.

“The evolving nature of crime requires a system like NIBRS to be constantly changing.” — Ellie Bennett

This blogpost was taken from a Pinpoint podcast interview with Ellie Bennett, a Product Manager at Mark 43To listen to every episode, click here. iTunes users can also use this link.

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