by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It’s difficult enough that public perception of crime is often untethered from reality, it’s even worse when the government agencies that are supposed to report, gather, and analyze crime are failing at an alarming rate.
The left-leaning criminal justice nonprofit The Marshall Project, in commenting on the FBI’s annual release of crime statistics last November, noted, “The nation’s most thorough crime data collection program concluded it’s possible crime went up, went down or stayed the same.” Why the uncertainty? It “largely stems from the fact that 2021’s data was more incomplete than any in recent memory. … This year about 7,000 police agencies, covering about 35% of the U.S. population were missing.” To address the massive holes in the data from large cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the Justice Department simply made an estimate.
“In some cases,” Marshall noted, “the FBI didn’t even have enough information to make an estimation.”
Why the huge amount of missing arrest data? Two reasons. First, the FBI finally switched fully over to a new reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The FBI had been accepting data in a format that was nearly 100 years old, and 2021 was the first year the reports from police departments — entirely voluntary — had to be in the new format. But there’s another disturbing reason some police departments don’t report data: It could make them or the left-wing politicians overseeing them look bad.
As a result, the FBI did not publish any state-level violent crime numbers for California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. Further, the entire West region lacked an estimate of violent crimes, murders, and aggravated assaults. Thus, when some, mostly on the left, argue that crime is going down, it’s a highly suspect claim.