• Article

The future of crime data


Strom, K. J., & Smith, E. L. (2017). The future of crime data: The case for the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) as a primary data source for policy evaluation and crime analysis. Criminology & Public Policy, 16(4), 1027-1048. DOI: 10.1111/1745-9133.12336


Research SummaryIn this article, we describe the nation's move to a crime-reporting system that is exclusively incident based. Such a change presents challenges for the crime-reporting pipeline and for researchers in managing and analyzing these more intricate data. We highlight the shortcomings of the dominant system, the Uniform Crime Reporting Program's Summary Reporting System (SRS), and argue that the advantages of the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) qualify it to replace the SRS as one of the nation's primary sources for tracking and measuring crime. NIBRS is also discussed in light of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), a source that complements a system that relies on law-enforcement-generated crime data.

Policy ImplicationsThe timing is right for a nationwide move toward NIBRS. The shift from aggregate crime counts to details on each crime incident has broad implications for justice policy. Use of a national incident-based collection of crimes known to the police provides (a) a set of descriptive indicators of crime in the United States that are currently lacking, (b) benchmarking for progress and change, and (c)more purposeful comparisons across place and time. The shift also serves to professionalize the policing industry further and provides transparency on crime and how police respond to it. The greater understanding of the crime problem will allow our programs, policies, and resource allocations to be more deliberate and responsive.