Everything you need to know about the national incident-based reporting system
As of January 1, 2021, all law enforcement agencies are required to submit data in compliance with the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Collecting this data provides an invaluable resource to all law enforcement professionals, as well as researchers and policymakers, but it takes a bit of know-how to figure out exactly which data to report and what your obligations are. The information provided below should help you and your staff get up to speed on NIBRS reporting requirements and best practices.
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What is NIBRS?
NIBRS (or the National Incident-Based Reporting System) is a reporting system used by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to collect data about each individual criminal incident they encounter. The system’s reporting guidelines are governed by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI); reported data is collected by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR) where it can be searched and viewed by detectives, police officers, academics, journalists, and the general public to understand incident patterns and trends in their communities.
All law enforcement agencies, including tribal and university police departments, are now required to use NIBRS when reporting incident data. While the requirement went into effect in 2021, the national incident-based reporting system definition first took shape in the 1970s, when law enforcement agencies started expanding their data recording capabilities. By 1988, the NIBRS system was approved and has since then been adopted by law enforcement agencies across the US.
How does NIBRS differ from the Summary Reporting System (SRS)?
Agencies that previously used the SRS (Summary Reporting System) – a paper-based system that mandated reporting only the most serious offense in an incident – are now required to use NIBRS. The SRS and NIBRS share many of the same data collection requirements, however, it requires agencies to be much more thorough. For example, the SRS asked agencies to collect data on eight types of offenses (known as Part I offenses); NIBRS requires data collection on 46 types of offenses (known as Group A offenses). In addition, NIBRS differentiates between attempted and completed offenses and defines survivors of rape as male or female. The SRS only codified crimes as rape if committed against female survivors.
The crime categories are also different. The SRS classifies crimes as either Crimes Against Persons or Crimes Against Property. NIBRS uses both of these, in addition to a third category called Crimes Against Society to categorize offenses against certain activities, like the sale or distribution of narcotics. It’s important to note that the FBI has now retired the SRS and all data collected by the UCR now has to come from NIBRS-compliant systems.
What is the reporting process like?
There is no universal NIBRS records management system; instead, agencies can create their own reporting systems using their platform of choice, so long as they follow the guidelines outlined in this handbook. More resources on specific system requirements for NIBRS are listed on the FBI website.
Once a NIBRS system is established, law enforcement agencies collect detailed incident crime data within 28 offense categories made up of 71 specific crimes. These are referred to as Group A offenses and include:
You can find a complete list of the 71 crimes in this information sheet. Agencies also submit arrest data only for 10 Group B offenses, which include driving under the influence, passing bad checks, and trespassing.
When reporting Group A offenses, there are five units of count:
Incidents – count one incident for each Group A incident with a unique incident number (for example a case number) followed by a minimum of the offense, victim, and offender segments.
Offenses – count one offense for each occurrence of Crimes Against Persons and each unique offense type for Crimes Against Property and Crimes Against Society.
Victims – count one for each victim (in multiple-offense incidents, a victim is counted for each connected offense type).
Known offenders – count one for each offender, e.g, offender segment, connected to
each offense type in the incident.
Arrestees – count one for each arrestee, i.e., arrestee segment, reported in a Group A
Incident Report; including only those arrestees who were connected to, though not
necessarily arrested for, a Group A offense. Arrestees in this publication do not include
those individuals involved with only Group B offenses.
Each submission to the FBI has to capture the age, race, and sex of victims, arrestees, and offenders.
National incident-based reporting system: Pros and cons
NIBRS provides access to detailed crime data that can be used to inform decision-makers and help detectives and crime analysts establish patterns in an unprecedented way. NIBRS data also informs the public and contributes to trust and transparency between law enforcement and the community. But compiling data at this scale comes with certain challenges.
Benefits of NIBRS
NIBRS has extensive details about the demographics of crime victims and offenders, which in turn can help law enforcement agencies know where to direct their resources. Unlike the SRS, NIBRS also reports every offense as a separate crime, instead of grouping offenses together by incidents. This allows for a more accurate perspective on criminal activity and patterns in specific geographical areas. In other words, more accurate, detailed data gives law enforcement agencies and anyone interested in crime statistics, like lawmakers, the ability to make informed decisions.
Challenges and limitations for NIBRS
The appearance of rising crime rates is a common concern among agencies after switching to NIBRS, since it requires reporting every offense in an incident as a separate crime (as opposed to SRS which only required reporting of the most serious offense per incident). However, data aggregated by the FBI from NIBRS-compliant agencies has shown those concerns to be mostly unfounded and the increase in reporting rate of crimes to be marginal.
Another challenge is finding a software platform that’s user-friendly, can be deployed in the field and is able to capture data quickly and accurately can be a challenge, especially for smaller departments with limited resources. Not having the ability to conveniently log this data can result in underreported submissions, which can compromise your ability to conduct investigations and provide an incomplete data set to the FBI. Repeated under-reporting can cause agencies to lose federal funding available through the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), putting a strain on already limited resources.
Choosing the right platform can alleviate these headaches. For instance, Axon Records lets officers complete their reporting in the field with searchable forms that contain all the fields they need, and come with autofill options for suspects or victims already in the system so there is no time wasted doing double entry. Missing fields are always flagged to make sure you remain compliant. To learn more about Axon Records, request a demo.