One observation we can make – in spite of the pessimism expressed by Houston-area voters, the reporting Houston-area jurisdictions actually saw crime go down. Combining figures from those jurisdictions, the Houston Area saw a 4% decrease in violent crime and a 3% decrease in property crime from 2020 to 2021. Granted, our polling data does not get granular enough at the community level to draw to decisive insights – for example, while property crime declined as a whole across these communities, Sugar Land saw a 15% increase. The rates of decline were surprisingly similar to the combined figures from DFW jurisdictions where violent crime and property crime both declined by 5%.
This preliminary data – the Quarterly Uniform Crime Report – is derived from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) reports that are voluntarily submitted by individual agencies to the FBI. Ideally, the quarterly report would provide trends by region and aggregate population groups. Instead, the final quarterly report for 2021 was released on March 21 of this year, and with it came the announcement that because too few law enforcement agencies reported, only data from city agencies with populations of 100,000 or greater would be available.
The drop in the rate at which agencies are reporting their information to the FBI is remarkable. This low reporting rate likely has a number of explanations, but it is nearly certain that a recent federal reporting transition that began in 2016 is playing an outsized role. As a result, 2021 was the first year that the FBI stopped accepting reports based on the older “Summary Reporting System” methodology, now relying exclusively on NIBRS reports from local agencies.
The transition to NIBRS in Texas has been a years-long process. The Legislature established a statutory goal in 2015 to have “all local law enforcement agencies” implementing NIBRS-sufficient reporting systems by September 1, 2019. A 2017 report from DPS to the Legislature demonstrates that Texas has made significant strides in adopting NIBRS. At that point in time, 97 agencies were NIBRS-certified, covering only 14.4% of the population. As of January 2022, 1,015 local law enforcement agencies were NIBRS-certified and reporting to DPS. This is still short of the “all local law enforcement agencies” goal in statute – 1,015 agencies represents about 37% of the total 2,716 active law enforcement agencies in Texas.
IMPROVING CRIME DATA COLLECTION
While the current 1,000 NIBRS agencies almost certainly cover a majority of Texans, this legislative interim is an important opportunity for lawmakers to check in again. One of the interim charges announced by the Speaker last month asks lawmakers to consider whether or not a standardized incident reporting requirement would be appropriate for Texas law enforcement. The impediments to reaching the statutory goal, and the consistency with which local agencies in Texas are able to submit NIBRS reports, should be examined as well.