The Federal Bureau of Investigation is counting on increased statistics to help take a bite out of crime.
Changes to the way law enforcement agencies report crime data to the FBI are underway nationwide, with the goal of bringing greater quantity and quality to publicly available crime data.
Starting in 2021, the FBI is requiring local law enforcement agencies to collect and report crime statistics through the National Incident-Based Reporting System. The Lake Havasu City Police Department purchased the NIBRS software earlier this year, according to Records Supervisor Robin Shoemake, and will begin the process of becoming certified this month.
The police department submits monthly crime reports to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which then compiles the data and forwards it to the FBI. Currently, Lake Havasu City and most law enforcement agencies in Arizona are submitting a Uniform Crime Reporting Summary Report. Those summaries include the number of incidents reported for eight Part 1 Offenses. NIBRS will include 21 different categories in its Group A Offenses, along with numerous subcategories for many of the different violations.
“The NIBRS produces more detailed, accurate, and meaningful data than the Summary Reporting system,” the Arizona Department of Public Safety wrote in its 2018 crime report. “Armed with such information, law enforcement can better make a case to acquire the resources needed to fight crime. It has the capability of furnishing information on nearly every major criminal justice issue facing law enforcement today.”
In addition to reporting a wider variety of crimes than the UCR Summary Report, NIBRS also will provide more details about the circumstances surrounding the incident – such as time, date, and location – along with characteristics about both the offender and the victim such as age, race, sex and ethnicity.
“When used to its full potential, the NIBRS identifies when and where crime occurs, what form it takes, and the characteristics of its victims and offenders,” DPS wrote in its 2018 crime report.
Shoemake used drugs as an example to explain the difference between the reports.
“No longer are we just having a drug arrest, now we are having a breakdown of the type of drugs, the weight of the drugs, the type of criminal damage…, the race of the person,” she said. “There are probably 200 different ticks that they would count versus maybe 50 that the old way used to… A lot of people are worried that it is going to increase the base of crime. Not necessarily. It is going to increase the data collected, but the crime is not going to increase.”
Although Sgt. Tom Gray said the changes are meant to bring greater transparency to law enforcement, it may also have a positive effect on policing.
“Being able to analyze different statistics can be a benefit,” he said. “Specifically, I don’t know what that would be yet. But certainly having more data to be able to understand crime trends or where criminal activity may be taking place would be a benefit.”
To ensure that the transition to NIBRS produces accurate statistics, each agency has to be certified by the federally-mandated Jan. 1, 2021 deadline. Only six agencies in Arizona have already been certified, but the Lake Havasu City PD is getting ready to start that process this month.
Shoemake said the police department will be required to submit its monthly reports to Arizona DPS using both NIBRS and the current Summary Report format for the next six months. If the rate of errors in the NIBRS submissions is below a certain threshold the department would become certified, allowing it to submit its crime data solely using NIBRS. If the error rate is too high, Shoemake said the police department would have to start the process over with a new six month period.
That leaves Lake Havasu City with two chances to become certified before the mandatory changes nationwide.
Shoemake said the change will require a little bit of a time commitment from officers initially, in the form of a couple hours of training, followed by continuing work with the records department to correct any errors or omissions prior to submitting their reports. Shoemake said there are automated checks in place to notify an officer if required information is missing.
“The initial training will just be familiarization with what officers need to report,” Gray said. “Then the processes that we have in place as far as supervisory approval for each step of the process will make sure that they fill out the fields that they need to fill out in order to report it correctly.”
Once officers get used to using NIBRS, Shoemake said the time it takes to fill out a police report will be similar to the current system.
“There is a little bit more data, but one thing a lot of the officers don’t realize is the program software that we are using, some of the spots that they are filling in aren’t mandated,” Shoemake said. “So they are filling it in as an option. So when we say it is now mandatory they are going to be like, ‘Oh, we have already been doing this.’ So we have a head start in the game.”
A closer look at the numbers
Despite a growing population, Lake Havasu City has seen a steady drop in violent crime and property crime over the past three years according to crime data from the UCR Summary Reports.
According to the statistics Lake Havasu City had 88 violent crimes in 2018, which is the lowest number the city has recorded since 2014. There were also 88 violent crimes reported in 2014, and 87 such crimes in 2013. Meanwhile, there were 830 property crimes reported in Lake Havasu City in 2018 which is the lowest number reported by the FBI in the last 20 years. The FBI did not include Lake Havasu City in its report in 2010.
But pinpointing precisely why crime stats have been falling can get a little bit tricky, according to Gray.
“I think there is a lot of subjective factors there,” he said. “It could be partially due to the economy right now – things are going well and people are doing well, the addition of cameras, alarm systems, commercial cameras – those things are more prominent now. Surveillance cameras can pick up suspects and help us identify suspects in certain crimes, it helps deter crime. It is hard to know what one specific factor there is.”
While there are many factors at work, Gray gives a lot of credit for the falling crime rates to the citizens of the city. He said technology is making it easier for citizens to pass along information to police in real time.
“We can’t catch all the criminals in Lake Havasu City without the support of the community. All of those extra eyes and ears that we have that are calling us, certainly helps,” Gray said. “With social media and all the options that are out there – everybody has a cell phone nowadays so it is as simple as a click and a send. Information can be submitted directly to us. We have a dispatch center that operates 24-7-365. They monitor many of those tips that come in, so depending on what those tips are we can immediately dispatch an officer.”
In 2018, which is the most recent year the FBI has data for, Lake Havasu City reported two murders or nonnegligent manslaughters, 20 rapes, six robberies, and 60 aggravated assaults for a total of 88 violent crimes. The largest drop in violent crimes came from aggravated assaults, with 33 fewer reported than in 2017. Property crimes included 155 burglaries, 615 larceny/theft, 60 motor vehicle thefts, and five reports of arson in 2018.
Overall, violent crime in Lake Havasu City in 2018 was down 26 percent from 2017 and 38 percent from 2016. Property crime numbers dropped 29 percent from 2017, and 31 percent from 2016 to 2018.
The recent trend of lowering crime rates is continuing so far in 2019, according to statistics provided by Havasu police. A total of 71 violent crimes had been reported through the end of October – on pace for 85.2 by the end of the year. Property crimes also have continued to drop through the first 10 months of 2019 with 556 reported, which puts it on a pace for 667.2 such crimes by the end of the year.
“Our mission is to ensure a safe and secure community,” Gray said. “We do that with the help of the citizens of the community. We encourage people to call when they see suspicious activity. We can’t do it without the support of the community.”
As the crime rate has fallen, Lake Havasu City has found itself on lots of online lists ranking the “safest” cities in Arizona.
Each data collection company uses its own methodology to determine the “safest city,” but Lake Havasu City usually seems to make the cut. Most recently, Lake Havasu City was ranked as the 10th safest city in the state by thehomesecurityadvisor.com. Safehome.org gave Havasu the highest ranking Today’s News-Herald could find, naming it the sixth safest city in Arizona based off of the 2017 numbers. Safewise.com lists Lake Havasu City at the 14th safest in Arizona while Ktar.com and securitybaron.com both have Havasu ranked 17th.
Although all of the data collection companies base their rankings off of the FBI crime data, many also incorporate other factors, such as the city’s population, its citizen to cop ratio, or crime trends which accounts for the variability in rank between companies.
Although Havasu generally finds itself in the top 20 on those online lists, Gray cautioned citizens to take them with a grain of salt.
“There are so many different criteria that those different surveys use, so they may not just be looking at lower crime rates,” Gray said. “They may be looking at how many parks we have or our education system. So really it is subjective depending on what criteria they are using. We live in a very safe community, and that is through the efforts of not only the police department, but all the other citizens of the community.”