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FBI Moves to Fix Critical Flaw in Its Crime Reporting System

Do you support the FBI's move to require "unfounded" case reporting?

by ProPublica | Updated on 12.7.18

by Mark Greenblatt and Mark Fahey, Newsy, Bernice Yeung, ProPublica, and Emily Harris, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting

NEW ORLEANS — The FBI will fast-track a fix to address flaws in its uniform crime report and is expected to change reporting rules to encourage more transparency about the outcomes of investigations by local law enforcement agencies, following a yearlong investigation by Newsy, Reveal from the Center For Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

The investigation uncovered a major flaw in the FBI’s next generation crime reporting system, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The new system does not track cases police classify as “unfounded,” a category for when police say the victim is lying or the reported crime did not occur.

In our November investigation, we found that the FBI reports zero unfounded cases for thousands of agencies using the new system, although records from those agencies show they classify many cases this way.

For example, the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia showed no unfounded cases in the FBI crime statistics for 2016. However, internal department records show that Prince William County police classified nearly 40 percent of all rape cases as unfounded that year.

“You have found something that needs to be corrected,” said Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., chairman of the FBI’s NIBRS transition task force, and chief of police in Fairfax County, Virginia. “This is a crisis, an emergency.”

Roessler said following the news report, he reached out to senior FBI leadership and received a commitment from the bureau last week that the FBI would move swiftly and bypass its typically lengthy requirements for advance notice to consider major policy changes. It’s unclear how exactly the system will change to reflect rape cases classified as unfounded. Roessler said one possibility being discussed is to require police agencies to not only disclose the cases they classify as unfounded, but also the reasons they’ve done so.

“Because of the importance of the ‘unfounded data’ issue, this topic has been inserted into the next round and will go before the semi-annual board in June,” said FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer.

“This is lightning fast compared to how this usually works,” said Erica Smith, chief of the incident-based reporting unit for the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

When reporters first brought the flaw to Smith’s attention, she called dropping unfounded cases from the data collection unacceptable. She has since had multiple calls with FBI officials urging they address the issue and investigate whether misleading information is being released to the public.

At a meeting of the FBI Advisory Policy Board this week in New Orleans, Col. Doug Middleton, the chair of the UCR subcommittee, said that the FBI is assessing system changes in the “near future” to correct the misleading zeros currently entered into UCR data for agencies that report to NIBRS. This spring, when the board’s working groups meet, a paper will be presented to discuss changes to the NIBRS data collection to “better reflect the resolution of crimes coming to the attention of law enforcement.”

“Some attention has been brought to unfounding and clearing offense data,” Middleton told the board. “The FBI acknowledges these concerns as more agencies move to NIBRS data collection and they are going to move to address this issue.”

Mitch Beemer, the incoming president of the Association of State UCR Programs and the incident-based reporting manager for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, told Newsy after the meeting that he thinks his members would support a change to track unfounded cases in the NIBRS data.

“We have a concern as an association about any gaps in data, any gaps in criminal justice data,” Beemer said. “It would help us give one more check of our local agencies to see how often it might be occurring.”

Law enforcement agencies have for decades been criticized for misusing the unfounded designation, leading to scandals in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleans and elsewhere. An earlier FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics joint task force cited a scandal in Chicago and explicitly recommended that unfounded cases continue to be tracked under the NIBRS system — neither the BJS nor FBI provided an explanation for why the recommendations were not followed when NIBRS was originally implemented in 1989.

Currently, about 40 percent of police agencies across the nation have transitioned to using NIBRS and are affected by the flaw. All police agencies are expected to switch to NIBRS by Jan. 1, 2021.

The FBI is expected to work over the next several months on drafting recommendations to be voted on in June at the next meeting of the full Advisory Policy Board. If approved, the recommendations go to the FBI director for implementation.

ProPublica

Written by ProPublica

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(23)
  • Mark
    Voted Oppose
    last Saturday
    ···

    The FBI is so deeply corrupt it is well beyond salvage. Disband it and start from scratch. And any applicants having been employed by the Federal Government in any position of any sort are disqualified. The majority of Americans have no confidence in the FBI. Nor can it be recovered.

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  • MAGAnificent
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    The FBI has a long way to go to regain public trust. I'm not so sure if that's even possible.

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  • Maureen
    last Saturday
    ···

    I do not agree that the FBI is beyond repair, and if you read this article, I don’t think that’s what they’re saying at all! Initially, perhaps by the Feds going along with this poor judgment of trusting the men and women in blue that if there wasn’t a case, there may well have not been a case, although, regarding rape, I don’t trust ANY OF THEM!! After being raped in NYC by a recent Ex, in 1985, to the point of my vagina being ripped to shreds, the police coming to my home, barely taking a report bc they were too fucking busy giving each other the side eye and checking me out. The next morning in my gynecologists office, where he begged me to allow him to call the police due to my injuries, I said absolutely NOT!! For what? To be revictimized and humiliated AGAIN? Hell NO!! I later found out that I too was “not believed”!! Cases like this STILL go on today and it’s just recently that the Powers That Be have realized that perhaps leaving all the Big Boy Decisions at the LOCAL LEVEL, might not be the best idea! I know of a few cases where the FEDS have stepped in and solved cases the locals said weren’t even there! I personally have a LOT of faith in the FBI, but I’m not delusional, I know there are good people and bad people in this organization. I do believe it’s mostly comprised of good! ADDENDUM: Just bc Donald Trump has continually desecrated the FBI and the ENTIRE Department of Justice, DOES NOT mean he’s correct!! He has a VERY SPECIFIC MOTIVATION for doing this, and he has been this way for his entire adult life! That man could care less who he destroys, so long as he (thinks) comes out smelling like a rose!😂😂 THIS time, I don’t think it’s gonna work, he didn’t stay within his own rules. Play only with other stupid people whom you can BS! Hahahaha!! I’ve watched this sonofabitch for 40+ years, I really hope it’s coming to an end! I NEVER thought he had the balls to fuck all of America too!!

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  • ColonelMoose
    Voted Oppose
    last Friday
    ···

    As a retired 17 year law enforcement veteran I oppose nearly anything the FBI tries to do. The issue with trying to regulate these stats is that each state and local jurisdiction has different laws which each have different requirements in order to qualify as a crime. I spent 7 years as a sex crimes detective and I absolutely do not believe the stat reporting that 40% of similar reports were “unfounded”. Forcing this disposition into crime stars is just going to complicate the stat results and open the door for defense attorneys to use FBI stats to impeach testimony of victims. There is so much negative that could come from this action and I see no real benefit for adding it to the annual stars. On a side note, in 17 years I worked cases with DEA,ATF, Secret Service, ICE, DOD and the US Marshals but never once did I ever actually meet an FBI agent. By the time I retired I began to suspect FBI agents were a lot like UFOs and Bigfoot. You hear about sightings but never actually find someone who claimed to see one in person.

    Like (3)
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  • Glowurm
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    Damn right, I do! The turd has our police force, literally, getting away with murder!

    Like (2)
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  • Tooluser1
    last Friday
    ···

    Depends on how this data will be used. Will we be punishing law enforcement for cases where there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone now? Because that totally won't contribute to false convictions or police corruption, right? Or are we FINALLY going to address the issue of false reporting by alleged victims that waste time, attention, and resources that could be used on ACTUAL crimes. (Not to mention justice for the falsely accused...)

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  • Pego
    Voted Oppose
    last Friday
    ···

    It looks like “unfounded” is a word improperly used to mean uncharged, unproven and police did not pursue the charges or believe the reporting victim. Unfortunately, it HAS been proved that police often wrongly disbelieve victims who they dislike or belong to a biased minority. This labeling choice sets that bias in stone to be used Against these same groups.

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  • Sean
    Voted Support
    last Friday
    ···

    Note that this move was prompted by a tough report made by several investigate reporters given to the FBI and made public. Never ever underestimate the power of a good old fashion public shaming . God bless our hard working , brilliant reporters!

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  • Cosmo
    Voted Support
    last Friday
    ···

    Answer ? Why does it take so long to attack critical issues. Stop using funds for pork. Society is watching. Wish we could fire non productive Congress elected officials. For issues like. When they lie (eg. vote for Pelosi when they were elected because they said they wouldn’t , or voting for pork issues). It’s got to stop. Let’s fire for non performance. Like the real world does.

    Like (1)
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  • Leslie
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    Yes, and make sure the FBI does it's job & ARRESTS THE ORANGE IDIOT IN THE OVAL OFFICE PER THE FBI DEFINITION OF A DOMESTIC TERRORIST!

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  • Linda
    Voted Oppose
    last Friday
    ···

    If I am understanding this, cases that are decided are not cases are not being reported to FBI. That seems appropriate. States with varying state laws do not need to report incidents that were declared non-incidents. The term “unfounded” is confusing. I’m sure there are he said/she said crimes without the evidence to be a case, even if there was an actual crime. Many guilty were never charged in these cases. Would it help find a serial rapist to know an unfounded exist that involves a current suspect in another state? Perhaps. It could also label an innocent? I guess I question the need for cases that are not cases being reported. That seems to oppose the rights of the involved people. As long as the states maintain this information, there should be no problem. Perhaps changing “Unfounded” criteria is what’s needed.

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  • Sean
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    It’s about time!!

    Like (1)
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  • Leon
    Voted Oppose
    last Friday
    ···

    We need to put real oversight of all the three letter bureaus. It should start with a 40% cut in funding.

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  • Ed
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    Working in Tech and Data Privacy, I can tell you this is a HUGE gap in reporting capabilities and likely causing negative outcomes. If a case is deemed unfounded, its reasons for being unfounded need to be documented and stored for auditing purposes. This not only keeps those involved with the case accountable, but it protects the people in the case as well. Law enforcement officials who follow proper protocol will be protected by the transparency of this documentation and those who do not will rightly be exposed.

    Like (1)
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  • Lionman
    Voted Support
    last Friday
    ···

    If it’s a “flaw” then why wouldn’t we have it fixed?

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  • Daniel
    Voted Oppose
    last Saturday
    ···

    The FBI has proven to be the most corrupt federal agency in existence. Disband it.

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  • Jake
    Voted Support
    last Sunday
    ···

    The more transparent the better!

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  • TadhgNV
    Voted Support
    last Saturday
    ···

    All citizens who claim to be a victim of a crime are deserving of a worthy investigation to see if there is any smoke regarding these sorts of cases. If there’s not, then stop the investigation. This will allow the FBI to be more efficient in helping the American people. A huge negative I see with not investigating “unfounded” cases is that the majority of reported sexual assaults and rapes would be classified as such, as if there’s no physical evidence, they can be very hard to prove (and I understand that’s a fact of the nature of these particular crimes, but that doesn’t mean we should always just shoo it away).

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  • Eunice
    Voted Support
    last Friday
    ···

    Transparency by our law enforcement and other government employees is necessary for an informed public. We pay their wages and they should be held accountable for policies and practices.

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  • Ann
    Voted Support
    last Friday
    ···

    Obviously we’ll overdo! Get it done!!

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