Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The results are in. Well, kind of.
The FBI on Wednesday released its 2021 crime statistics but the data in New Mexico, like many other states, is vastly underreported due to a lack of participation from law enforcement agencies.
The numbers are derived from the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, a voluntary system that many agencies are still adjusting to. The system is new and replaced the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, or UCR.
In New Mexico, only 42 out of 128 law enforcement agencies handed over 2021 data to the FBI. The data reported represents 61% of the state’s population.
According to the incomplete data, the violent crime rate in New Mexico was 553 per 100,000 people in 2021, and the number of offenses rose 10% from 2020. The same data shows a 2% drop in property crime since 2020.
“It is important to note that these estimated trends are not considered statistically significant,” the FBI said in a release sent out Wednesday.
Jillian Snider, adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, echoed that sentiment, saying the report should be taken with a grain of salt.
She said NIBRS is a valuable tool but it’s just not at its full potential until more agencies submit data. When it comes to agencies reporting data, Snider pointed out that New Mexico is on par with the nation, where data from 60% of agencies was included.
Some states barely reported at all in 2021.
In Florida just two of 757 law enforcement agencies provided data to the FBI, and in California data from only 7% of the population was submitted. On the flip side, states like Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware provided statistics for more than 98% of the population. Due to the inconsistencies, Snider said the current data set is “not representative of what’s really going on” and shouldn’t be used for historical trend analysis, localized studies or making policy decisions.
“It’s not really going to help you assess what to do in your individual state, and definitely not going to help law enforcement agencies in their own individual jurisdiction,” she said.
Snider said it takes a lot of time for agencies to adjust their reporting methods to the NIBRS system, which breaks crime up into specific offenses and considers things like time of day, type of weapon and other factors.
She said for now those looking to analyze data should rely on reporting released by local agencies, like the Albuquerque Police Department. APD released 2021 crime statistics in March, showing that overall crime went up by 0.85% – the city’s first increase since recording yearly decreases of 7% and 6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
The statistics have shown that, in 2021, violent crime continued to rise, going up 3%, and property crime had its first increase of under 1% after double digits decreases since 2018.
Snider said such data is more valuable than NIBRS, for now.
“I think that it’s going to take probably another two to three years for this (FBI) report, to really be the valuable tool that the federal government wants it to be,” she said, adding that there needs to be at least 80% compliance from agencies nationwide.
Snider said she hopes this data set isn’t misused as midterm elections approach.
“I worry that people will use this to come out with really quick and hasty policy recommendations that might not apply or be beneficial,” she said. “… One of the things that I’m just a big fan of is not having lawmakers, having law enforcement, have a hasty knee jerk reaction.”
While crime may be up in the past several years, Snider said it’s important to remember that historically crime is way, way, down.
FBI data shows that the national violent crime rate at its peak in the early ’90s was nearly double what it is now. New Mexico, however, is much closer to its ’90s peak of violent crime than it ever has been.
Snider, who grew up in New York City when crime was rampant, said technology – like Twitter, digital news and smartphones – makes things seem worse than ever crime-wise.
“Things that are happening in real time are more in your face now than they ever were in the past … It wasn’t a constant reminder by turning on the TV or looking at your cellphone,” she said. “So I think that’s really what’s changed substantially is it’s just constant. The news never sleeps now, ever, for real, because we have all the technology we didn’t have in the ’80s.”