Posted on April 19, 2024

Bad Data From the FBI Mislead About Crime

Mark Morgan and Sean Kennedy, Washington Examiner, April 5, 2024

The fourth quarter 2023 crime report from the FBI, the federal government’s keeper of crime data, is unreliable at best and deceptive at worst.

The FBI’s preliminary 2023 data show murder declined by 13.2% across the country and violent crime dropped 5.7% compared to 2022 levels. Various news headlines have reported the FBI’s numbers unquestioningly, claiming murder is “plummeting” and violent crime “declined significantly” to pre-pandemic levels.

But these latest figures warrant skepticism, as we outline in a new report. {snip}


In 2019, 89% of agencies covering 97% of the population submitted data, but by 2021, that coverage plummeted to less than 63% of departments overseeing just 65% of the population. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City all failed to submit crime data. To increase participation, the FBI relaxed the NIBRS requirement in 2022, allowing agencies to report via the legacy system.

But many other cities, such as St. Louis, which had transitioned to the new method, still struggle to comply and submit partial or faulty data. The FBI compensates by relying more heavily on “estimation,” or informed guesswork, to fill in the gaps and produce aggregated data.


And the figures the agencies do report to the FBI do not match the agencies’ publicly reported figures. {snip}

Other measures of crime levels undermine, or at least muddle, the veracity of the FBI’s data, which rely on “reported” offenses by victims and law enforcement themselves. The federal government’s own victims’ survey, which attempts to capture the gap between the number of actual offenses and the number reported to police, shows much higher offense rates than the FBI does. Moreover, a rising share of victims are failing to report their victimizations at all. In 2022, only 42% of violent crime victims and 33% of property crime victims bothered to report the crime to police.


Another complicating factor is underreporting by the police themselves, who might be under pressure to “downcharge” offenses or dissuade the victims from reporting the crime at all. {snip}

Our analysis of 40 jurisdictions that both reported data to the FBI and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which collects data from the largest police departments, shows that homicide declined 10.2% across 40 major cities in 2023 since 2022, but the FBI reported a 12.8% decline in those same jurisdictions. Similarly, the FBI reported a 6.6% decline in violent crime since 2022, but the same cities reported only a 4.5% drop {snip}

In reality, violent crime is up substantially from 2019 levels. In big cities, murder is still elevated — up 23% since 2019 across all 70 cities tracked by the MCCA and up 18% according to a 32-city analysis by the nonprofit organization Council on Criminal Justice. For aggravated assaults, CCJ’s 25-city sample found those up 8%, while the MCCA larger sample of cities reported a 26% increase over the same period.