On December 6, the FBI released detailed 2020 crime data for offenses reported to law enforcement in the United States. According to the 2020 data, nearly 9 million crimes reported to police in 2020. 60.5% (about 5.4 million) were property crimes, 25.2% (about 2.2 million) were crimes against persons, and 14.3% (about 1.3 million) were crimes against society. The most commonly reported offenses were larceny/theft, assault, and drug/narcotic offenses, respectively.
Of the 2.2 million crimes against persons, key findings are as follows:
48.7% were male
23.8% were between 26 and 35 years old
66.9% were white
24% were Black or African American
50.1% reportedly knew their offenders but did not have familial relationships with them
24.7% were related to their offenders
25.2% reported that their offenders were strangers to them.
62.1% were male
38.2% were between 21 and 35 years old
50.8% were white
29.6% were Black or African American
72.6% were male
31.9% were between 26 and 35 years old
67.7% were white
27.1% were Black or African American
About the Data
The data were collected as part of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and include information on 23 variables and 52 offense categories. Unlike the Uniform Crime Report (UCR)’s original “Simple Summary Reporting” (SRS) system, which essentially reports aggregated counts of crimes at monthly and yearly intervals, NIBRS provides additional details about incident characteristics (e.g., time and place, victim and offender demographics). For example, SRS would only allow an agency to report how many robberies occurred in a jurisdiction, while the NIBRS captures data from several fields (e.g., location of crime, number of offenders involved, weapons used), allowing for more comprehensive analysis.
As of January 2021, the SRS was officially retired and the NIBRS is now being used exclusively in lieu of the SRS. Unfortunately though, there are two main downsides of NIBRS: 1) similar to the SRS, participation is voluntary; and 2) incident-level data is more burdensome for law enforcement agencies to collect. As a result, many are worried that law enforcement participation rates will decrease. NIBRS has strict data quality rules and requires agencies to record detailed information in structured data fields, something that might be challenging or time-consuming to do depending on the department. For example, data cleaning and submission may require specialized staff and technological upgrades that many agencies don’t have and may not be able to afford.
Agency Participation Rates
Since the introduction of NIBRS in 1982, participation rates have remained low. To improve participation rates, the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) began working on a project called the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X) Initiative to support the transition. The NCS-X project convened experts to establish data collection protocols, explore possibilities for improving data quality, and increase participation rates. The project also provided more than $120 million in to assist police departments in their transition to NIBRS; funds were used to provide technical expertise, data integration support, and other NIBRS-related training. The goal of the initiative was to increase the number of agencies contributing to NIBRS over a five-year span so that the UCR’s SRS could be officially retired by January 2021. Key objectives associated with the NCS-X project included teaching agencies how to: 1) leverage crime data for data-driven policing; 2) assess and evaluate strategy and policy; and 3) improve transparency with the public through comprehensive crime data and dissemination of data.
The NCS-X project did correlate with increased NIBRS participation rates. In 2012, before the NCS-X project, only one-third (33.5%) of agencies submitted data to the NIBRS. In 2019, toward the end of the NCS-X initiative, this estimate had risen to include over half (51.3%) of agencies previously reporting to the former SRS system. As of 2020, participation rates are at their highest level so far, with 62.1% of law enforcement agencies (9,880 of 15,901) reporting to NIBRS. It is still somewhat unclear whether this data is representative of the nation of a whole, but a participation rate of more than 60% represents a remarkable improvement since 2012 nonetheless. In addition, when looking at reporting rates from 2019 to 2020, it does appear that participation trends are generally increasing over time. BJS expects this estimate to rise to at least 75% by the end of 2021, an estimate that would be more akin to historical UCR participation rates.