TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — When it comes to understanding how safe a city or neighborhood is, a lot of times it boils down to crunching the numbers. While it may seem easy to just count the number of murders or robberies, there’s actually a system to organize that data.
A change in the system that so far has cost nearly $33 million is leading to some potential complications for Florida law enforcement agencies. Other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. also have to pay to update their systems and focus on more than just numbers.
At the center of it is the level of detail in the reporting. The Uniform Crime Reporting system is operated by the FBI. The crime statistics come quarterly but lack details or complexity in what’s known as the Summary Reporting System. In SRS, if someone is murdered during a robbery, the stats just say they were murdered.
Now, law enforcement agencies are starting to transition to a different FBI system, called NIBRS, or the National Incident-Based Reporting System, where reports come monthly and include all of the crimes in an incident, not just the most serious one.
According to the FDLE, the outgoing system included seven categories to organize the crime data. NIBRS has 66 categories and several other sub-categories.
Transitioning to that system, though, can end up having some technological and financial hurdles. according FDLE Chief of Criminal Justice Analytics Bureau Phillip Suber.
“There are a number of roadblocks financially and technologically that they encounter. So, we understand there is difficulty, but we are encouraged and please with the transition so far,” Suber said.
An FDLE spokesperson said the state has allocated $1.1 million in state-funded grants to 14 agencies and she said more money is available.
Data submissions for these crime stats are voluntary, meaning agencies have to opt-in to the programs. While some Florida agencies are still using UCR, other departments have started switching to NIBRS.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is working on adjusting to the new national system, and created a state-level version. It’s called FIBRS, the Florida Incident-Based Reporting System.
So far, the transition has been piecemeal, with only some Florida agencies moving to the new system, and not all at once. The Tampa Police Department is currently shifting gears to the newer, more detailed program.
A TPD spokesperson said that as a result of the transition, there isn’t a way for the department to pull numbers that fit the UCR system, so for now, the data will be delayed.
“TPD can pull raw numbers for the first quarter that are not NIBRS or UCR compliant. So when NIBRS numbers get up and going, they will be different than what we give you,” according to TPD.
The state version is still in development, but officials from FDLE say they are still accepting routine data while in their “test environment.” The net step is for FDLE’s FIBRS to be NIBRS certified. Once the state has the federal certification, they’ll be able to take both previous and new data, so there won’t be a gap in reporting.
“We have been working with our local law enforcement partners to let them know this change and how it effects them so they can begin reporting it ASAP,” Suber said. “We understand there are a lot of hurdles that go into making this transition, especially for local agencies.”
Going forward, the FIBRS reporting system will have more information about criminals, their victims, and the “totality of the offense that occurred” during each incident.
While municipal law enforcement agencies transition to the new reporting system, FDLE is still accepting data the old way, according to Suber. He said the data will help law enforcement improve their policing strategies, as well as for law enforcement training.
The data included in FIBRS contains use of force data by Florida’s law enforcement agencies. The first module of FIBRS was launched on Sept. 1, 2020 and was focused on collecting the use of force data, specifically. The program was then expanded to include the UCR data, hate crimes, cargo theft, human trafficking and law enforcement staffing.
Data input is still voluntary, with the exception of use of force data. A law passed in the 2021 Florida legislative session requires use of force data to be submitted to FDLE beginning in July 1, 2022.
FDLE said FIBRS isn’t meant to replace the normal annual data submissions, which summarize crime across the state. There are currently 95 police agencies, 30 sheriff’s offices, and three statewide law enforcement agencies contributing use of force data to FDLE. The state said about half of all state law enforcement agencies are already voluntarily submitting use of force data.