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The San Antonio Police Department is upgrading to a new, federally-required process for how it reports crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, officials said Friday. The new reporting technique will enhance the way SAPD and the FBI track crimes by recording more specific details about perpetrators and victims.
Currently, crime data is sent from local police departments to the FBI through a Unified Crime Report (UCR), which tracks only eight different serious property and violent crimes. The new National Incidents Based Reporting System (NIBRS) will capture data on 49 different offenses, including white-collar crimes, in 23 categories.
“It provides for more accurate reporting of crime, it offers a more complete picture of crime, and it also enhances the ability for victims to apply for certain victim services,” SAPD Chief William McManus told the Rivard Report after he briefed City Council’s Public Safety Committee on the upgrade.
In order to comply with the switch, which is required by 2021, SAPD is also getting a new record management system that is compatible with NIBRS, said SAPD Capt. Karen Falks, who oversees technology updates. The current system is about 10 years old.
The new system will also “enhance our officer productivity,” as it will allow applications that officers use for evidence logging and other paperwork to connect more easily, Falks told the five-member committee.
Interviews to select a company to provide the new technology were completed on Friday, she said, and that contract will ultimately require approval by Council.
The record management system and NIBRS are slated to begin testing and operations in November 2020, said Deputy City Manager Maria Villagómez.
Because of the increased detail of reporting, NIBRS data will likely show what will appear to be an increase in the crime rate – but that’s because it’s capturing more data, McManus said.
There has been a significant citywide decrease in serious crimes that are counted by the UCR including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft, and arson; there was a 4 percent decrease from 2016-2017 and a 16 percent decrease from 2017-2018.
Most police departments classify certain crimes differently, and that is why the UCR data can’t be used to compare one city to another in terms of how safe it is, he said. Sometimes that is done on purpose to under-report serious crimes and “make [a department or a city] look better, I guess,” he added. “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that does not happen here in San Antonio.”
The NIBRS will not fix the problem of under-reporting nationally, he said, but it will give law enforcement a clearer picture of crime.
Currently, when multiple crimes are committed by someone during a criminal act – say a murder occurs during a robbery – only the highest offense, in this case murder, is reported in the NCR. The robbery is not counted. But up to 10 offenses can be counted in the NIBRS.
To provide for a comparison in the first year NIBRS is deployed, the police department will also produce a UCR, he said.
That data can then be used by local and federal law enforcement to get a more comprehensive look at crime. NIBRS will collect demographic information – race, age, sex, etc. – about the assailant and the victim, the relationship between the two (if they’re related, married, etc.), and where and when the crime took place, McManus said.
The information will enhance the work that the Office of Innovation and SAPD’s data analysis team regularly perform and could impact how the City approaches crime prevention.
The Office of Innovation took a look at repeat offender data collected from Bexar County over the past two decades and found that 67 percent of property and violent crime was committed by a person with a criminal record – meaning they have at least been arrested. Between 2012 and 2018, 55 percent of people that have been “both arrested and a victim of a crime first entered the system as a victim.”
“The victim [of a crime] oftentimes had some type of role or was somehow involved in the offense where they became the victim,” McManus said.
The violence that occurs on the street often has a victim that is engaged in “high-risk behavior,” he said. “If you’re in a gang, if you’re buying drugs, if you’re selling drugs on the street, if you’re soliciting prostitutes … you’re going to get hurt. It’s going to catch up to you.”
This is a public health issue, he said, “we want to look at it in those terms … and come up with some way of dealing with that in addition to enforcement.”
That could have implications for how SAPD operates in certain areas or what programs Metropolitan Health District can deploy, he said. “Understanding what population it’s occurring in and where it’s occurring, I think, between the police and Metro Health, that we might be able to come up with some additional methods of addressing that type of crime.”
The Office of Innovation regularly performs analysis work for various departments, including SAPD, Villagómez said. We bring them in whenever we want to dive into an issue or come up with new process improvements.”
SAPD has a busy analytics team and the Office of Innovation can bring a new perspective and has “the time to do it,” she said.