Some local police departments use older data collection software to record crime data causing distorted FBI crime report

I-Team

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The newest numbers from the FBI show violent crime is up on the national level. The numbers are not as pronounced locally, but they too are up. 

The 22News I-Team looked at why so many police departments feel the annual FBI crime report does not give a true picture of what is really happening at the local level. 

The FBI crime data show the amount of violent crime reported in Springfield is the third lowest since the FBI began releasing data in 1995. Nationally, violent crime is up more than five percent with murders increasing by 30 percent. 

“We still strive to do more, and to do better,” Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said. “I think the big thing, an initiative that we’ve pushed forward [is] the body-worn cameras. We are the largest police department, I believe in New England, that has full body-worn cameras.” 

FBI data show overall crime in Springfield decreased by four percent from 2019 to 2020, a 25-year low. However, violent crime increased by six percent and there were 100 more aggravated assault reports than the year before. 

“The felony gun assaults, which again you know I’ve pontificated for a long time on the bail reform with repeat, violent criminal offenders being let out. The courts aren’t holding anybody,” Sarno said. 

A representative of the Boston FBI office declined the I-Team’s request for an on-camera interview but told us over email that the agency makes no attempt to interpret the data. Instead, the FBI defers to noted criminologists and sociologists who analyze crime trends. 

Locally, cities like Pittsfield rely on their own data analysis. Chief Michael Wynn and many other police chiefs across the country have said for years that the annual FBI crime report does not give an accurate depiction of what happens in individual communities. He said the problem is local police departments use two different data collection software systems.  

“Prior to 2021 we could have the same fact pattern and the same four charges as a small community surrounding us,” Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn said. “We would log all four in our crime data. They would only log the most significant offense. So, for the same fact pattern, we would have four offenses in our crime data but a small community in Berkshire County would only show one. So that right there, when people are doing the community-to-community comparison, that was problematic.” 

As of 2021, smaller police departments, using the older data collection system, were expected to upgrade to the more detailed system most larger cities are already using. Data collection under the new, streamlined system will be available in 2022. 

Chief Wynn also told the 22News I-Team the FBI makes it clear on their website that we should not compare data city to city, like Pittsfield to Boston. It is like comparing apples to oranges. Instead, we should compare data year to year within the same municipality. 

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