BY DIANE DIMOND
Law enforcement needs to know what it doesn’t know. Tracking trends in crime is a way to keep communities safe.
Any decision made is only as good as the information used to make it, right? I submit the same holds true when figuring out how to fight crime.
Since the 1930s, the FBI has urged the nation’s law enforcement agencies to take part in its Uniform Crime Reporting Summary and record how many crimes occur in their jurisdiction in 10 crime categories, including homicide, rape, robbery, arson and auto theft.
Reporting has always been voluntary for law enforcement agencies and, to this day, the statistics sent in remain meager. Only a fraction of the nation’s 18,000 policing agencies participate. The most often heard reason? Departments don’t have the budget to hire personnel to keep track of crime categories and prepare monthly summaries for Washington.
To police chiefs, sheriffs and other top cops: This is a call to get with the program, for the safety of your constituents and your officers. Find the money to get this vital information into one central location.
This is really important stuff to know. City, county, state, federal and tribal agencies need to have a big-picture feel for crime. What’s happening in the jurisdiction next door and who is committing the most crimes? What specific crimes are local gangs most often involved in and what months are most active? What are the latest scams or trends to be on the lookout for? Without a unified database of information, officers are fighting crime in the dark.
These days the FBI is pushing an even more wide-ranging reporting system that goes beyond the summary system of yesteryear. It is called the National Incident-Based Reporting System. It began to emerge in 1989 as a way to capture a more complete picture of crime in America, but still not enough departments are reporting in to make it a viable system.
Today the updated NIBRS captures — in 22 different categories — rich details about both the crimes committed and the criminals who perpetrate them. NIBRS tracks the age, race, sex, ethnicity and the relationship between criminal and victim. New categories include human trafficking; officer-involved shootings and attacks on officers; hate crimes; and animal cruelty.
The FBI calls the system “the next generation of crime stats,” and Stephen Morris, assistant director of Criminal Justice Information Services, says, “NIBRS has the ability to give you the who, what, when, where, and sometimes the why of a crime.”
What good does all that extra information (SET ITAL) really (END ITAL) do for us, you ask? Let’s take the recently added category of felony animal cruelty as an example.
Empirical research has produced scads of studies and academic papers linking those who commit acts of cruelty against an animal to future violent crimes against humans — crimes such as child abuse (physical and sexual), elder abuse, domestic abuse (from stalking to rape), arson, weapon offenses, drug offenses, homicide and even serial murder.
Several school shooters bragged of mutilating animals during their childhood. Before murdering and cannibalizing young men, Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of cats, dogs and frogs on sticks in the yard. The “Son of Sam” serial killer, David Berkowitz, began his crime spree by poisoning his mother Pearl’s parakeet, which he thought was stealing her attention. Before he kidnapped and murdered more than three dozen people, Ted Bundy watched his grandfather torture animals. It wasn’t until these killers turned their rage on humans that experts began to see the link.
Since torturing an animal is often a precursor to more serious crimes, doesn’t it make sense for law enforcement to keep better track of those who commit serious animal abuse? And doesn’t it also make sense to track officers who indiscriminately shoot civilians; civilians who attack police officers or people who engage in violent crimes against those with a different skin color?
Only about 30 percent of law enforcement agencies are currently contributing to the NIBRS database. The FBI knows it will never get 100 percent compliance but is encouraged that among those getting set to join are the Washington, D.C., and Chicago police departments. The bureau hopes that within the next five years more large, geographically dispersed departments will opt in to help illuminate where to concentrate our law enforcement manpower.
It takes time to build a statistical database. What are we waiting for?
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email [email protected]