Friday, April 3, 2015

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FBI will overhaul tracking report, add missing crimes

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Police perimeter tape blocks the scene of multiple shooting deaths near Tyrone, Mo., on Feb. 27.(Photo: Michael Thomas, EPA)
WASHINGTON —The FBI is in the midst of a major overhaul of its signature tracking program that for more than eight decades has been regarded as the most reliable measure of crime in the USA.
Federal authorities are attempting to convert hundreds of law enforcement agencies to an alternate reporting system that would account for perhaps scores of offenses that have never been recorded in the bureau's annual summary of crime in the USA, part of its Uniform Crime Report.
Assistant Stephen Morris, who oversees the bureau's crime data collection functions, said there is no estimating the number of ''lost'' offenses because of the "summary'' nature of the current reporting structure. "You don't know what you don't know,'' Morris said in an interview with USA TODAY.
Murders may be the most consistently tracked offenses in the summary portion of the report. But an unknown number of other crimes often committed in the course of those deaths — rapes, robberies, assaults, arson and others — go unrecorded. Long-standing reporting limitations allow for tracking only the most serious single offense from each incident, regardless of how many other offenses have been committed.
A police patrol vehicle. (Photo: GM, Wieck)
The UCR crime summary tracks 10 specific offenses, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. It does not record crucial details about race, gender and relationships involving both victims and offenders. Neither is there specific information about where crimes take place and the identification of specific weapons involved, all of which could assist law enforcement officials and lawmakers in devising more effective anti-crime strategies.
The giant holes in the reporting method, federal authorities and analysts acknowledge, call into question the reliability of a measure that often determines how hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money is spent in an attempt to bolster public safety.
"We don't have a good sense at all of the relationships involved in crime because we are still using a 1930s tool,'' said University of South Carolina Professor Geoff Alpert who specializes in law enforcement research. "It's horrible that we have had the ability to do this, but for some reason, we just haven't done it.''
In place of the summary crime report, the FBI is expanding the capacity of a National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS, that has the potential to account for much of what is lacking. Instead of 10 offense categories, it tracks 24; it has the capacity to record how often law enforcement officers use deadly force against citizens — and whether those encounters involve a disproportionate number of minority suspects.
The absence of such detailed data derailed recent attempts to broadly analyze officer-involved shootings and other instances when police used deadly force in the wake of last year's racially charged fatal police encounters in , and
The long-needed overhaul of the reporting systems has drawn the strong support of FBI Director , who recently lamented the lack of basic data as "unacceptable.''
FBI Director James Comey (Photo: Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images)
"Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson last summer, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African American in this country,'' Comey said in a speech last month at . "I wanted to see trends. I wanted to see information. They couldn't give it to me.''
LENGTHY PROCESS
Despite the widely acknowledged data gaps, federal officials conceded that fixes will probably not come quickly.
Morris said it could take "years'' to expand the NIBRS system to produce a more representative sample of . Just 6,300 of nearly 18,000 U.S. police agencies funnel the more detailed crime information to NIBRS, while about 10,000 agencies provide the basic summary data.
Morris said at least 400 agencies are needed to convert the summary systems to the richer data delivery method under NIBRS for the FBI to produce a sound national report.
Among the police departments that do not participate are some of the largest in the country: New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
Although a system for reporting the more detailed information has been available since the late 1980s (the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division was the first to apply it), persistent compliance problems remain, from the cost to install new records management systems to committing the required personnel to oversee the collection.
The most difficult of the obstacles is that agencies have never been required to report, analysts said. Despite the consequential nature of national crime analysis, the submission of local crime data remains voluntary. Since 2013, for example, when Congress mandated that the FBI begin tracking human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sex or involuntary servitude, only five of the nearly 18,000 agencies have provided information, according to FBI records. As many as 1,500 agencies provide no crime data at all.
"For whatever reason, police departments have not been willing to expend the extra effort to do it,'' said Professor , who has spent decades examining crime statistics. "How the FBI is going to get that extra cooperation is unclear right now.''
Some communities are resistant to contributing more detailed data out of fear that it could depict a more serious crime problem than is reflected by the summary reporting system, said one researcher familiar with the reporting process.
The researcher, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said a conversion to NIBRS could produce "spikes'' in some categories of crimes that were not adequately measured previously.
"One of the big fears is the potential for a shock in the measure,'' the researcher said.
UNDER REVIEW
Morris said federal officials are in the midst of an audit involving about 400 agencies identified for possible conversion to the new reporting system. Among the areas of review are the state of the agencies' records management systems, the costs required for conversion and what financial or technical assistance, if any, the federal government may be able to provide.
Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said completing the needed conversions will require federal money. The IACP is the nation's largest association of police chiefs. "One of the challenges is dollars,'' Beary said, adding that the replacement of a records system even at a small department could cost $100,000 or more. "Some state systems are so old, they can't push that amount of data to the FBI.''
Though there has been no recent rush of agencies to adopt the new reporting system, officials hope the recent attention focused on the current system's shortcomings could prompt change. "The fact that the (FBI) director put a spotlight on this issue a couple of weeks ago, we have been quietly celebrating,'' Morris said.
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FBI News Review


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The FBI Has Its Own Secret Brand of Malware

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They had warrants in those specific cases, but if the DoJ procedural changes go through, they’ll be able to get warrants without EVER telling their suspects about covert searches and without making sure they’re in the correct jurisdiction... and it’s not clear if they get warrants for *every* type of malware they use, since we know so little about the program.