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Posted on: February 18, 2020

Galveston Police Department transitions to new crime reporting data system

GALVESTON, TX – February 18, 2020 – The Galveston Police Department is transitioning to a new crime reporting system to improve the quality, accuracy and transparency of the department’s crime data.

The transition to a new accounting system will not change how laws are enforced or our public safety operations, but how crimes are reported to the state and federal agencies.  When the new crime data is released in 2020 it will appear that there has been a dramatic increase in crime on the island year over year; however, this is not the case. The change is in the reporting and the two systems of data collection are not comparable.

Crime data collection is important to law enforcement agencies. In the 1920s the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recognized the need to create standardized methods for recording and comparing crime across all law enforcement jurisdictions. After assessing contemporary record-keeping standards, the IACP developed a plan called Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR). The plan included standardized offense definitions for seven main offense classifications. In 1976, the State of Texas adopted the UCR as its official statewide crime reporting system with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) leading the project. 

The Galveston Police Department and numerous other agencies around the country have used the Uniformed Crime Reporting system for many years, but the system has limitations. One major limitation of UCR is the way UCR counts crimes. When multiple offenses occur in the same episode, only the most serious offense is counted. Offense seriousness is found in a well-defined UCR ranking system. Summarizing crime according to UCR hierarchical standards has significant impacts on the number of crimes reported to the DPS. Taking an extreme example, one criminal episode may contain such heinous crimes as theft, robbery, and sexual assault. According to UCR reporting standards, the sexual assault would be the only offense appearing in the final report to DPS. The remaining offenses in this episode would remain uncounted.

To address the limitations of the UCR, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) was developed to improve the overall quality of crime data collected by law enforcement. NIBRS captures details on each single crime incident—as well as on separate offenses within the same incident — including information on victims, known offenders, relationships between victims and offenders, arrestees, and property involved in crimes. Unlike data reported through the UCR, NIBRS goes much deeper because of its ability to provide circumstances and context for crimes like location, time of day, and whether the incident was cleared.

NIBRS is largely being adopted by law enforcement because of its more accurate and transparent methodology. In 2015, the Department of Public Safety agreed to sunset the traditional UCR system and to replace it with NIBRS by January 1, 2021.

In October 2019 the Galveston Police Department began the transition from UCR to NIBRS.  The change will not affect how our assets are used; however, the different reporting methodologies between UCR and NIBRS will reflect different numbers in our reports to DPS. Recall the previous example wherein only one offense was reported to the DPS because of UCR. In that example, three offenses would be reported to DPS because of NIBRS reporting standards. Beginning January 1, 2020, we will fully implement NIBRS making crime comparisons to previous years incomparable. 

Regardless of which administrative reporting system is used, the Galveston Police Department has always recorded all offenses reported to the police and used that information for crime prevention and asset deployment.

The Galveston Police Department employs an organizational model of problem-solving, analysis and accountability as an approach to crime reduction. Our model incorporates evidence-based practices and is highly data-driven. The public safety we produce is independent of UCR or NIBRS crime counts.

 “As Texas and the Galveston Police Department continue to grow and improve the conversation about crime reporting standards will continue to evolve too, but throughout that time we will continue to address crime problems efficiently and effectively,” Police Chief Vernon Hale said

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