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The Transition to NIBRS: What, Why and How


In an increasingly data-driven world, the transition to the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) makes sense now more than ever. Systematic crime reporting in the United States dates back to 1929, when the FBI launched Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) to collect statistics about criminal activity on a nationwide basis. Since then, a number of factors including population growth, urbanization and the rise of technology revolutionized our appetite for data collection, reporting, analysis and consumption. In 1989, the FBI introduced NIBRS as an alternative to UCR. NIBRS is a more sophisticated initiative to capture more detailed information about crimes. Today, the transition to NIBRS is gaining momentum across the country (see map below) and has groups like the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) calling for its complete adoption (and the retirement of UCR) by 2021. But what does this mean to law enforcement at the individual agency level? How can you prepare your department for the transition to NIBRS and in what ways will this shift impact the communities that you serve?


To begin, a bit of background. At its core, NIBRS collects more detail than UCR.

  • NIBRS collects information on 52 different crimes; UCR collects information on only 8.

  • NIBRS adds a third category (Crimes against Society) to the two categories collected by UCR (Crimes against Persons, Crimes against Property).

  • To assist in solving current crimes and preventing future criminal activity, NIBRS collects specific information about each crime, including the crime incident, victim information, relationship between the suspect and victim, nature of the property and the characteristics of the arrested suspect.

  • NIBRS replaces UCR’s “hierarchy rule,” which instructs law enforcement to report the most serious offense that occurred during an incident, with comprehensive documentation of all offenses that occurred during an incident.

  • NIBRS differentiates between attempted and completed crimes, which UCR does not.

  • Offense definitions can be tailored to meet state and national reporting needs.

A police department preparing for the transition to NIBRS likely faces some typical challenges. Some of these challenges include, the need for a NIBRS-compliant Records Management System (RMS), job redefinition, increased training requirements, and additional reporting responsibilities placed on officers.

The good news is that federal funds are available to support agencies transitioning to NIBRS, and the timeline between now and 2021 allows for a carefully planned transition and the necessary budgetary steps. At the organizational level, free online toolkits are available to assist agencies with the required internal changes. The National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X) provides a wealth of online resources, including its recently published Law Enforcement Agency Playbook: Guide to Implementing an Incident-Based Reporting System, which includes fifteen steps to assist agencies in planning for this transition.

Concerns about the increase in crime data causing a perception of an increase in crime are also common. However, NCS-X reports that agencies adopting NIBRS experience only a very slight increase in reported crimes using NIBRS as compared to UCR. For example, adoption of NIBRS has no effect on the reported number of murders or rapes, a minor effect on the reported number of robbery and aggravated assaults, which increase on average by 0.6%, and a slightly larger effect on the number of larceny and motor vehicle thefts, which increase on average by 2.1%. A well planned public outreach campaign can prevent the perception of increased crime and educate the community about the benefits of NIBRS. In reality, with better historic criminal information available, public safety agencies will be better informed about criminal activity in their communities and therefore better able to deploy resources more effectively to reduce crime. The detailed information collected for each offense enables more strategic and tactical crime analysis to solve and prevent crimes within and across law enforcement jurisdictions.

The consultants at DELTAWRX can assist with creating and executing your NIBRS transition implementation plan. We have worked with agencies that have been the first in their states to transition to NIBRS and assisted them with developing technical requirements, procuring new information systems, and identifying and planning for the organizational changes (structure, resources and training) necessary for a successful transition.

Has your agency recently transitioned from UCR to NIBRS crime reporting? Are you considering a transition to NIBRS? If you have any tips or questions we would love to hear from you! Please contact us at lcoyle@deltawrx.com, mlynn@deltawrx.com and bhudson@deltawrx.com.

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