During the May 3rd Congressional field hearing in Philadelphia, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee cited significant drops in violent crime to refute the testimony of victims who decried out of control crime in the City of Brotherly Love. This is largely because numerous media outlets have, in recent months, run headlines suggesting that crime is declining across the country. The statistics they’re citing, however, don’t tell the entire story. While the reports noted by Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Montco) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delco) almost exclusively cite FBI data to report dropping crime rates, analysis shows that the FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) is currently far less reliable than in prior years.

Analysis of crime stats show that the two federally used methods of measuring crime tell two different stories, calling claims from the Biden administration and House Democrats that crime is declining into question. Reports show that crimes which should have been reported by police to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) have not been accurately reported in their annual uniform crime report (UCR). 

The federal government has two ways of measuring crime, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) versus the FBI’s UCR program. The former asks around 240,000 Americans if they’ve been the victim of a crime in the last year whereas the latter relies on crimes reported to police in a given year and shared with the bureau.

While the UCR reported that violent crime fell by two percent between 2021 and 2022, with the media reporting a continued drop for 2023; the latest NCVS found that the number of people saying they were the victims of violent crimes increased by 42.4 percent between 2021 and 2022, rising from 16.5 victimizations per 1000 people to 23.5 victimizations per 1000. Despite these disparities, politicians and the media have taken a victory lap, proclaiming that crime is on the decline, without mentioning the conflicting data produced by the NCVS.

To make matters worse, the FBI’s recent transition to the NIBRS system appears to be inherently flawed. In 2021, the FBI launched as a replacement to the standard uniform crime reporting system where all crimes were reported in two parts, Part One (violent/serious felonies) and Part Two (all others). NIBRS collected far more details to include locations, demographics, etc. While some federal grants were offered to pay for local agencies to implement NIBRS reporting nationwide, many agencies across Pennsylvania have still not changed their reporting systems. Even in Philadelphia, which is the only city in the Commonwealth to state that it is NIBRS compliant, the results won’t be part of national crime statistics until next year. 

Only eighteen of the 52 states and reporting territories in the United States have every law enforcement agency reporting to NIBRS. Another 21 states have more than three-quarters of their police agencies fully engaged. There are serious questions for the validity of how crimes are reported to the FBI, and what oversight there is to assure these statistics. For the third consecutive year, the state’s second largest city, Pittsburgh, did not turn over its annual numbers to the system, to include homicides, making it nearly impossible to truly know how high their crime rate is. Pittsburgh’s police is among hundreds of agencies across Pennsylvania alone that have been missing from the federal program, giving the state the rare distinction of having the lowest rate for participation in the country, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whose analysis revealed that just eleven percent of Pennsylvania law enforcement sent their data to NIBRS last year, leaving Philadelphia police as the only large municipal agency to share those figures with the FBI.

However, confidential sources within the Philadelphia Police tell Broad + Liberty that there have been no changes to the 75-48 report forms used by officers to report incidents since 2021, when NIBRS rolled out. So, if the officers on the street aren’t changing how they are reporting crime, how is the Philadelphia Police able to accurately represent these new changes to NIBRS?

This is in addition to previously reported discrepancies in Philadelphia’s homicide totals, which prompted Broad + Liberty to create its own homicide tracker. Similar non-governmental accountability measures have been established in cities like Milwaukee, to assure an accurate record of crime. Detroit, which has consistently one of the nation’s highest crime rates, regularly calls the city’s public safety statistics into question. The lack of NIBRS participation has identified gaps in detecting national trends, as well as raising concerns about police transparency, an issue that continues to drive debates across the country.

“Last year, Detroit reported its fewest murders since 1966,” said Pulitzer-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff to Broad + Liberty, “but in ‘66 there were two million people here vs. the 620,000 we currently have. In addition, Detroit police didn’t report ten percent of their homicides to the FBI because the DA’s office declined to prosecute them as ‘justified.’”

LeDuff says the politicization of public safety statistics has resulted in a growing distrust of law enforcement, which may be why the NVRS has shown more crime victims, but less reporting to police. “In Detroit, the average 911 response time is 22 to 40 minutes” said LeDuff “but when those numbers fell, I reported that the city was adding in traffic stops where police initiated the report with no response time to give a false impression that crime is down and public safety is better.”

FBI sources cite funding, personnel and technology upgrades as why the transition to NIBRS has been slow for state and local law enforcement agencies, but once completed NIBRS will glean demographic details about victims as well as document 52 different types of offenses, ranging from hate crimes and domestic violence to white-collar and juvenile offenses.

To try to plug the federal gap in funding, Gov. Josh Shapiro announced $10 million in tax dollars to support system upgrades, with Pennsylvania planning to offer 50 grants with budgets up to $200,000 each.

When the FBI announced the transition in 2015, it gave police agencies across the country six years to install the new system — even providing millions to help fund the improvements. However, NIBRS received far fewer grants and mandates than other federal public safety initiatives, including the rollout of the National Incident Management System during the Bush administration.

In 2021, more than two-thirds of departments nationally reported a switch to NIBRS, but only two percent of agencies in Pennsylvania had actually done so. Recognizing this gap, the FBI has been cobbling crime data from local agencies under the old UCR reporting system together with crime figures from the new reporting.

“It’s a stopgap,” said Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s not going to get them all the way forever. But they intended for it to be just good enough until we have more complete agency adoption.”

In 2022, 31 percent of police departments nationwide, including Los Angeles and New York, didn’t report accurate crime data to the FBI. That is better than 2021 but still much worse than the 97 percent of agencies covering most of the U.S. reported in 2020. In addition, in cities from Baltimore to Nashville, the FBI is undercounting crimes reported in those jurisdictions. The fact that the FBI and NCVS estimate of reported crimes trend in opposite directions since 2020, make it nearly impossible to trust any talking points on crime from the Biden administration. From 2008 to 2019, the FBI and NCVS measures of reported violent crimes generally tended to move up and down together. But from 2020 to 2022, these two numbers were almost perfectly negatively related to each other. Most notably, the FBI’s number of reported violent crimes fell by two percent in 2021 and 2.1 percent in 2022, while the NCVS’s measure showed increases of 13.6 percent and 29.3 percent, respectively. 

Add this to the tradition of downgrading reported crime by local agencies to lower crime statistics. As a DC police officer under then-Chief Charles Ramsey, I was routinely made to report thefts as “lost property” and domestic violence as “domestic incidents” to keep crime low. Then, under the UCR, reporting an aggravated assault as a simple assault meant that it will be excluded from FBI part-one crime data. Under NIBRS, this wouldn’t be as easy to do, which may account for a reluctance to transition over.

While politicians like Larry Krasner and Joe Biden have capitalized on claims that crime is decreasing, the disparity in governmental reporting metrics reveal that many Americans are being gaslit, and still largely feel unsafe on our streets.

Based in Philadelphia, A. Benjamin Mannes is a consultant and subject matter expert in security & criminal justice reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

3 thoughts on “Ben Mannes: Is crime really going down?”

  1. Car theft is the only crime that is reported by the victim to a third party – their insurance company. Even those without insurance generally report to their local law enforcement agency because they are pissed off and want someone to take action. Every other crime statistic depends on the arresting officer, the booking officer and the charging DA to be reported and all of them can have reasons to distort the truth.

  2. 1. The price per pound of coffee increased from an average of $3.14 in 1980 to $5.89 in 2022, a 89.6% increase over 42 years. Then the per-pound cost went up to $6.16 in 2023 from $5.89 in 2022, registering a year-over-year increase of 4.6%. Currently the average price for a pound of coffee was $6.063 in April compared to $5.964 in March, for a 1.7% increase, according to data released May 15, 2024 by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This past month authorities pulled coffee costs from CPI calculations.
    2. The U.S. has until September 15,2024 to vacate Niger, a west African country, which they have been using as a counter-terrorism hub for more than a decade. Until recently, more than 1,000 U.S. personnel have operated there, most working from an airbase near Agadez, which cost the U.S. more than $100 million and sits in the country’s center. About a month ago over 30K Nigerians and 60 Russians occupied the base while the 1,000 marines were still there – according to reports. “This is not a good outcome,” said a senior defense official, briefing reporters Sunday on the condition of anonymity. “We’re leaving Niger after a significant investment and a lot of time invested in the partnership.”
    3. Our news is propaganda. The FBI and other alphabet agencies are suspect, and they are incentivized to lie to the people.

  3. “1. The price per pound of coffee increased from an average of $3.14 in 1980 to $5.89 in 2022, a 89.6% increase over 42 years.” The price of everything has gone up over 42 years, if you don’t like the increased prices in a market based economy lets change over to Socialism or drink tea instead.
    “2. “We’re leaving Niger after a significant investment and a lot of time invested in the partnership.” Do you think that this is the first time in American history this has happened?
    “3. Our news is propaganda. The FBI and other alphabet agencies are suspect, and they are incentivized to lie to the people.” I heard that the U.S. alphabet agencies are actually controlled by the U.N., which is run by the Masons, who are controlled by the Illuminati, and all of these organizations answer to the Mossad.

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