NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System) is a powerful tool for law enforcement. But for agencies transitioning to NIBRS, the system presents new challenges around data collection and reporting.
Unlike SRS (Summary Reporting System) hierarchy rules—which say that agencies should report only the most serious offense—NIBRS requires all offenses be reported. NIBRS also requires that agencies report more information for the 23 Group A offenses for any given incident– including property, victim, offender, and arrest information for each offense. In comparison, SRS only has nine Part I-classified crime categories.
Needless to say, this difference means that a lot of data that will need to be collected. This increased workload presents three specific challenges that bear highlighting for agencies transitioning to NIBRS reporting.
Challenge 1: Officer Accountability
The increased data collection and reporting required by NIBRS inevitably falls to those writing the reports, and for most law enforcement agencies that means officers. Officer accountability begins when they first enter data about an event, as data is only as good as it is input.
But with complex and confusing NIBRS requirements, officers struggle to submit accurately coded reports. NIBRS field are not always “officer-friendly,” and fields that are not relevant to a local agency maybe be included as mandatory by the system.
With so much reporting downloaded to frontline officers, it can be unclear how much of the responsibility rests on the officers and how much rests with Records. Correcting NIBRS errors is not intuitive and deputies can spend a lot of time trying to fix the errors, often roping in Records to help.
Frustration can lead to fewer reports being taken, hurting the accuracy of crime stats and overall accountability to the citizens an agency serves. Likewise, over time NIBRS statistics can become skewed because of shortcuts taken or limitations within the system.
For example, many agencies across the country carry tasers. When a taser is used, officers need to include this in their report as use of a weapon or use of force. This is also important within departments for internal statistical tracking. However, NIBRS has a finite list of reportable weapons, and that list doesn’t include a taser. This is another example of how NIBRS fields are not always officer-friendly.
And overall morale at an agency can suffer during transition, with deputies frustrated about having to so much data entry, investigators frustrated by not getting complete crime data, Records frustrated by their own increased workload, and administrators frustrated because productivity and morale are so low.
Challenge 2: Report Integrity
Report integrity becomes an issue when a report needs to be altered due to incorrect data input or reporting that doesn’t conform to NIBRS reporting guidelines. State statute and NIBRS mappings do not always align, causing issues for officers when selecting offenses to add to a report. This unfortunately can be a frequent occurrence, leading to issues within departments and with the courts because reports are being altered from how the officer originally entered it.
An officer’s account of offenses can differ from what NIBRS deems “acceptable.” For example, there are certain combinations of offenses that NIBRS deems incompatible, such as Aggravated Assault and Intimidation. Should both be recorded for the same incident the only fix is to either have Records delete one of the offenses or kick the report back to the officer and have them delete one of the offenses. Both are less than ideal solutions.
Officers can be upset and confused by reports that look different than how they initially submitted them. And District Attorneys and the courts may request additional documentation or supplemental reports explaining what changes were made and why, creating even more work.
Challenge 3: Records Team Efficiency
As is clear from the above, NIBRS reporting is seldom automatic, fast, or without frustration. Transition to NIBRS is a major time and resource commitment for any size agency, especially on the part of Records teams.
Increased data collecting requirements will inevitably create more work for records users, and it’s a challenge to find ways to reduce the time it takes for Records to do NIBRS reporting and checking.
NIBRS is also just one element of a Records job role, so bandwidth to get everything done can become an issue—as can overtime costs.
Mark43 can help you with your transition to NIBRS reporting. Check out our free webinar Behind the Scenes: NIBRS Compliance with Mark43 for a complete walkthrough of how Mark43’s RMS can help your agency with streamlined, intuitive, configurable NIBRS reporting tools.