COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Crime statistics in the United States are lagging behind and experts who track crime are worried that gap may never close.
The Marshall Project, a non-profit organization that reports on criminal justice, compiled a database showing which of the nation’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies didn’t report a full year of crime data to the FBI in 2021.
It reveals 62% of Ohio’s 862 law enforcement agencies either reported incomplete data for that year, or no data at all.
Dr. Chenelle Jones, a professor at Franklin University and director of the school’s public safety programs, is troubled by the lack of data.
“When we’re missing data, our law enforcement agencies aren’t really able to understand the context of the crime, when crime is happening,” she said. “It really hurts crime prevention efforts. When crime is under-reported and the funding is attached to that, then the funds are going to go down.”
For decades, law enforcement agencies reported annual crime statistics to the FBI through Uniform Crime Reports, which the federal agency makes public.
In recent years, the FBI transitioned to a different system of reporting and tracking crime, to increase the information the public can access.
“The National Incident-Based Reporting System is a database that is able to house more comprehensive data,” Jones said. “And with that more comprehensive data, you can figure out victim type, offender type, when the incident happened, the context of the incident.”
Jones said the transition has been challenging for local agencies, including many that reported complete sets of data in 2020.
“There’s several reasons why law enforcement agencies wouldn’t report to the new NIBRS just last year. They may not know how to do it. They may not have the mechanisms to do it. They may not have personnel to enter the data,” Jones said.
According to The Marshall Project’s database, the largest agency in Ohio that did not report complete data for 2021 is the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s not intentional on our part, we’ve gone through a new change in our records management system,” said Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin. “Unfortunately, we’ve just had some– for lack of better terms– technical difficulties in getting that information to them.”
Martin said his office also installed a new records system in the middle of 2021, which reported the first seven months of crime statistics to the FBI before the transition.
“I’m all about getting the data out there and analyzing it.” Martin said. “If there’s gaps in our professionalism, I think, good law enforcement managers — executives — they want to see that and then make adjustments, whether it’s to training or hiring or whatever. So I just think we’re kind of catching up to the technology.”
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the remainder of 2021’s crime statistics were reported late to the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System in June, where the FBI gets its data on individual law enforcement agencies. That data is still not visible on the OIBRS website.
NBC4 Investigates verified with the Department of Public Safety that it had complete data for the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, but there are errors with the data preventing them from publishing it. A DPS spokesperson could not elaborate on those errors.
“For full transparency, your call and The Marshall (Project’s) report is what’s going to cause us internally to take a look at our process. And we’ll be addressing that in the very near future,” Martin said.
The Marshall Project’s database shows two states, Delaware and Pennsylvania, in which no law enforcement agencies submitted a full set of crime statistics for 2021.
NBC4 Investigates asked the FBI how the agency can support local law enforcement in reporting critical information. The FBI has not yet provided an answer.
To see if your local law enforcement agency has a full set of statistics for 2021, visit The Marshall Project’s website here.