Collecting data to enhance understanding of thousands of law enforcement agencies across the United States
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) aims to collect and analyze objective, timely, and high-quality data from law enforcement agencies at all levels of government to provide federal, state, and local policymakers critical information for “combating crime and ensuring that justice is both efficient and evenhanded.” However, the decentralized and multi-jurisdictional structure of U.S. law enforcement presents challenges in operationalizing law enforcement data collections, including:
- the lack of a centralized database of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) for developing survey frames and samples;
- variation among agencies in terms of mission, size, and jurisdictional authority creating differences in LEA interpretation of survey items and increasing the likelihood of measurement error; and
- LEAs with specialized functions that require a tailored questionnaire to accurately capture their operations.
Since 2015, BJS and RTI have collaborated to develop innovative law enforcement data collection methodologies to overcome these challenges and collect objective, timely, high quality data for the following surveys:
- 2015 and 2019 Law Enforcement Core Statistics Program (LECS)
- 2016 and 2020 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS)
- 2018 and 2022 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies (CSLLEA)
- 2018 Census of Law Enforcement Training Academies (CLETA)
- 2015 Survey of Law Enforcement Personnel in Schools (SLEPS)
- 2016 LEMAS Body-worn Camera Supplement (BWC)
- 2021 Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies (SCLEA)
Across these projects, RTI has collected data from more than 20,000 state, local, and campus LEAs and more than 700 law enforcement training academies, demonstrating our expertise in developing and implementing innovative and effective methodologies tailored to law enforcement.
Our Expertise in Law Enforcement Surveys and Data Collection
RTI’s law enforcement data collections for BJS have enabled BJS to increase the breadth and depth of the data collected from LEAs. Large surveys, including CSLLEA and LEMAS, collect data on thousands of agencies in each iteration, while smaller surveys, including CLETA and SLEPS, allow BJS to increase the depth of knowledge on more focused agency types and subject matter.
For the 2018 CSLLEA, RTI contacted over 19,000 LEAs, making it the most complete enumeration of LEAs ever available to practitioners and researchers. The breadth of CSLLEA allows BJS to expand the scope of research on US law enforcement by collecting frame data for other BJS law enforcement data collections.
To collect in-depth data on LEA staffing, operations, education and training requirements, and agency responsibilities, RTI contacted more than 3,500 agencies to participate in both the 2016 and 2020 LEMAS. Across CSLLEA and LEMAS, RTI has refined a recruitment methodology demonstrated to successfully recruit large numbers of LEAs to participate in BJS data collections.
To supplement LEMAS findings, BJS and RTI conducted the LEMAS Body-worn Camera Supplement, the first in a series of anticipated LEMAS supplements. This supplement and future supplements enable BJS to collect data on critical and emerging issues, while minimizing the agency burden of core LEMAS collections.
Recognizing the unique missions of select LEA types, BJS and RTI have conducted SLEPS, SCLEA, and CLETA to collect data focusing on specific aspects of agency and academy characteristics, functions, and policies. SLEPS collects data on school resource officer programs, allowing BJS to provide data on the size, characteristics, and core functions of school resource officer programs and fill gaps in knowledge about the scope and duties of the law enforcement personnel working in schools.
SCLEA collects data on campus LEAs that face unique challenges associated with campus life, including protests and other types of activism that occur with greater frequency on college campuses. SCLEA also expands the reach of BJS collections to include LEAs on private college campuses, which may be beyond the scope of other BJS data collections.
CLETA contacts every law enforcement training academy operating in the U.S. and provides critical information on the basic training required to become a law enforcement officer. Information from this collection is essential to understanding characteristics of new officer training, including the topics, length of training, and resources used.
Survey Methodology Updates Tailored to Law Enforcement Needs
Through these collections, RTI has partnered with BJS to develop several sampling, questionnaire design, data quality, and analysis innovations to make BJS data more useful for policymakers, researchers, and law enforcement agencies:
RTI developed and maintains the Law Enforcement Agency Roster (LEAR). The LEAR provides BJS a frame of U.S. LEAs; updates are made during each BJS law enforcement collection. In addition, RTI developed the Agency Records Management System to update and maintain LEAR records such that all modifications are tracked and verified prior to being accepted into the LEAR.
For SLEPS, RTI helped BJS develop a two-phase design to conduct their first officer-level survey, using rosters collected during an agency-level survey to develop the sampling frame for the subsequent officer-level survey.
For LEMAS and SCLEA, RTI conducted expert panels with researchers and practitioners to assess the degree to which existing survey instruments reflected their data needs. Results from both panels were used to reduce the estimated response burden of each survey while providing data of greater utility to stakeholders.
During the 2018 CLETA, RTI developed a tiered approach to data quality follow-up in which the method and content of communications are tailored based on the nature of the data quality issues. Using this approach, minor errors are resolved using various email strategies and more complex errors are resolved by phone. This approach increases efficiency, minimizes respondent burden, and reduces survey cost. Based on the success of 2018 CLETA, RTI deployed a similar approach to data quality follow-up for 2020 LEMAS and SCLEA.
Beginning with the 2018 CSLLEA, RTI has matched agency location and jurisdictional boundaries with population data from the U.S. Census, allowing BJS and RTI to conduct expanded weighting and analysis activities.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics