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The Pros and Cons of Transitioning to NIBRS

The deadline for agencies to transition to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for uniform crime reporting (UCR), January 1, 2021, has just passed. While NIBRS has several advantages, the transition may also highlight some weaknesses or inefficiencies in your current workflow.

Defining NIBRS

NIBRS replaces the UCR Program’s traditional Summary Reporting System (SRS) as the national crime reporting system. It collects and summarizes more information to give a clearer, more in-depth picture of crime data across the country.

The complete guide to NIBRS criminal justice reporting

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NIBRS pros and cons

While NIBRS provides valuable information to assist with planning efforts on the national, state and local levels, the transition has posed significant challenges for law enforcement agencies. It has also exposed many shortcomings in traditional and legacy report management systems. Here, we explore the pros and cons of NIBRS.

Pro: Captures every crime

Perhaps the most notable difference between SRS and NIBRS is that the latter captures every crime that occurred in an incident rather than just the most serious offense as SRS does. This way, crimes are tracked in a way that shows a true representation of all crime activity, not just a portion of it. 

Pro: Adds needed context to crime data

NIBRS also collects additional information on the circumstances surrounding an incident, such as victim-offender relationship data, to give more context to crime data.

Pro: Fuels better decision-making

With more accurate statistics, law enforcement agencies can have more constructive discussions and make better-informed operational decisions.

Con: A difficult transition for legacy systems

For most agencies, the transition to NIBRS has meant a massive technological undertaking. In many cases, agencies have had to purchase expensive system upgrades or third-party programs to capture the data NIBRS reporting requires.

Con: Extra work for officers and records specialists

Without the right report writing software, collecting information for NIBRS translates to additional work for officers and/or records specialists, both of whom are backlogged already. Officers and records specialists must wade through complicated forms to ensure proper reporting to NIBRS, and that can extend the time it takes to finalize reports. That’s on top of NIBRS requirements to capture more data in each incident report than was previously needed.  

“With certain systems, you have this big, complicated form to fill out, and there’s not a lot of guidance about what you need to do and why,” says Allison Smedley, senior product manager for Axon Records. “This can result in an officer sending a report through, then the records clerk getting it and reviewing it, and kicking it back for errors — and the whole process is just slowed down significantly.”

Con: Time-consuming error codes

Many agencies rely on handbooks to help officers figure out the error codes they might receive within an NIBRS reporting form because they can be difficult to decipher.

“A lot of systems show error messages that are not understandable to officers,” Smedley says. “For example, they might submit their form and see something along the lines of, ‘Data Element 3 is invalid.’ They’re sometimes so convoluted that the officer won’t have any idea what to do with them.”

What a rocky transition tells you

If your agency’s transition to NIBRS has been difficult or costly, it might be a sign of a larger issue. 

“If switching over to NIBRS has necessitated a huge effort in your agency, that is a sign that your technology is outdated,” says Eddie Driver, senior product marketing manager for Axon Records. “Let’s say you did get NIBRS implemented, but now your officers are saying, ‘What are all these new fields in here and why do I have to see all of them?’ That’s a problem. Officers already have way too much paperwork to do, and this just adds to it.”

Axon Records, on the other hand, simplifies the transition to NIBRS. Because Records is a cloud-based software, agency clients experience no disruption in their current workflows or costly upgrades to become NIBRS-compliant. Instead, they receive NIBRS updates to their software just as you would update an app on your phone.

And rather than filling out separate forms, officers simply complete their reports as usual, answering a few additional questions. Axon Records intuitively aggregates the data necessary to submit to NIBRS.

With dynamic reporting, officers only have to see and answer questions that specifically relate to their report. And there’s no reason to keep a handbook nearby to help them figure out error codes. Axon Records automatically detects inconsistencies and flags them for officers in plain English. All of that equates to less paperwork and more time in the community.

Problem, solved

Axon can help you simplify your agency’s transition to NIBRS. Contact Axon to learn more about Axon Records.