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Reporting inconsistencies make city-to-city crime comparisons tricky

(WNDU)
Published: Jun. 14, 2018 at 8:37 PM EDT
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You may have seen an

that ranked South Bend as one of the 50 worst cities to live in.

We shared that article Wednesday and later took it down after the mayor's office reached out to us disputing the use of FBI crime data used to evaluate cities. The mayor's office told us you can't draw valid comparisons since cities report crimes differently.

So, we decided to look into it ourselves to make sure the information we're sharing is accurate.

NewsCenter 16's Jen Cardone dug deeper Thursday to see if cities' crime rates can accurately be compared to each other using the FBI's crime database.

What she found was that the short answer is no. On the FBI's website, they say they are well aware news media might want to use the crime data to rank cities, but they warn us not to.

Browsing through this USA Today article caught many of our eyes when we saw South Bend ranked the 40th worst city to live.

But the data comes from the FBI's unified crime report, and the data is submitted voluntarily.

As a result, the FBI cautions people from comparing cities, because crime isn't reported the same way by every department.

Factors like population density, economic conditions, cultural factors, family cohesiveness, effectiveness and strength of law enforcement agencies, and citizens' attitude toward crime can all influence data.

For example, one city may report more crime than a comparable one, not because there's more crime but because its law enforcement agency identifies more offenses.

South Bend has recently switched from the Summary Reporting System (SRS) to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

SRS would not report all of the crimes in one incident, while the new system will collect more information about each incident, potentially giving the appearance of an increase in crime.

The mayor's office told us in a statement, "Crime data sets like the UCR database can be useful, but it becomes very problematic when some websites ignore the FBI's warnings against using it to compare between cities.

"Different cities often use different reporting practices, and even within the same city, definitions and records policies can change from year to year. We count on media and residents to look carefully at the context of these data sets and draw responsible conclusions."

To view recent South Bend crime statistics, you can visit the

.

By 2021, all law enforcement agencies are expected to switch to the NIBRS system.

The FBI did not wish to comment on camera for this story. They referenced us to the disclaimer on their website.

An official statement from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg's office is reproduced below:
Crime data sets like the UCR database can be useful, but it becomes very problematic when some websites ignore the FBI’s warnings against using it to compare between cities. Different cities often use different reporting practices, and even within the same city, definitions and records policies can change from year to year. We count on media and residents to look carefully at the context of these data sets and draw responsible conclusions. For recent South Bend crime statistics and a guide to interpreting UCR data, residents can go to SBPD Transparency hub at police.southbendin.gov/datahub.

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