Based Reporting System (NIBRS) - National Incident

The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS)

The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is a tool used by law enforcement in the US to collect and submit information on crimes. Using their records, municipal, state, and federal agencies are able to produce such data. In that it provides more detailed information on criminal activity, this system is an updated version of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) scheme. Due to the NIBRS system's provision of a breakdown of crimes into specific sub-categories rather than category totals, detailed incident-level data can be acquired this way. This essay attempts a brief discussion of the NIBRS system and evaluates some advantages

Crime levels in the US and the challenges faced by the UCR program

Crime levels in the US are recorded under the aegis of the UCR program. This program was the brainchild of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in the 1920’s. Regrettably, the UCR system faces challenges that include unreported crime, systematic errors in data input and methodological errors. Failure to report crime resulted from various reasons like distrust of police, lack of insurance and fear of reprisal from the offender. Systematic errors could result from wrong crime reporting, for instance, equating an assault on a female as rape and also intentional data manipulation by police agencies to make them appear more effective in dealing with crime. On methodology, issues include the fact that federal crimes are not reported on the system. Likewise, reports are voluntary meaning that not all agencies report. Then the reports vary in term of completeness and accuracy. In addition, crime count is not by jurisdiction and last and the worst methodological challenge is the hierarchy rule which provides for only the worst crime to be reported. (Maddan, 2015). It is because of these challenges that the UCR Study Task Force was formed in 1982 jointly by the FBI and the Bureau of Justice (BJS). This was aimed at finding the way forward to resolve these issues and come up with better data collection.

Birth of the NIBRS system

In 1985, the UCR Study Task Force presented its findings and recommendations. The recommended suggestions included: The program collecting incident data, increased flexibility in data collection, getting rid of the hierarchy rule, rigorous data-auditing capabilities and an audacious plan of reports, which should be contextual, jurisdiction-based, and given quarterly (Maddan, 2015). On the strength of this report titled Blueprint for the Future of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the NIBRS system was born in that year (Maddan, 2015). The new system had guidelines and specifications that provided for incident-based recording that gathers data paying regard to the nature of the offense, characteristics of the offender and victim, property descriptions and details of the arrest. In this manner, the NIBRS system helps improve reporting and analysis and the overall effect is a more efficient enforcement of law policies.

Adoption and categories in the NIBRS system

After a successful piloting program in South Carolina from March to September 1987, a national UCR conference was held in Alabama in 1988 and participants unanimously supported adoption of the same system. From March 1988 to January 1989, the new NIBRS system was finalized by the FBI and the in April 1989, initial test tapes was received (Maddan, 2015). This set the pace for adoption of the NIBRS countrywide across various law enforcement agencies

The NIBRS requires that ‘offense/arrest’ information be gathered by law enforcement on 22 categories that consist of crime and 11 categories of ‘arrest only’ offenses. These are grouped into Group A (report and arrest) and which include: arson, assault, bribery, burglary/breaking and entering, counterfeiting/forgery, destruction/damage/vandalism, drug offenses, embezzlement, extortion/blackmail, fraud, gambling, homicide/murder, kidnapping, larceny, motor vehicle theft, pornography, prostitution, robbery, forcible sex offenses, non-forcible sex offenses, stolen property, and weapons violations and Group B (arrest only) which consists of bad checks, curfew/vagrancy, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drunkenness, liquor law violations, nonviolent family offenses, peeping tom, runaways, trespassing, and all other offenses.


One advantage of the NIBRS is the use of new and revised definitions to describe offenses. These definitions are derived from combining common laws found in Black’s Law Dictionary accessed at (, the UCR Handbook available from (, and the National Crime Information

Center (NCIC) which provides uniform offense classifications. The NIBRS does not purpose to use such data to charge individuals but rather to get clear perspectives in defining crime. A good example is the term ‘rape’ whose definition has been expanded to include male victims (Maddan, 2015). Such definitions can be utilized to ensure no crime goes unreported which is one the goals the system was set up to achieve.

The dropping of the hierarchy rule in reporting crime is another advantage. In the UCR system, the most significant crime recorded in crime statistics was the most grievous one if done by the same offender at the same time (Doerner & Lab, 2012). The new system considers any crime a crime for which sufficient data must be gathered. In this manner, getting a positive outcome in dealing with crime becomes attainable.


The NIBR system faces apathy from law enforcement agencies. This is because a significant number of them fail to see the advantages of NIBRS reporting and therefore do not report crime incidents. The fear by many managers that officers will lose focus from their main duties and concentrate on creating crime records also makes many shun this method. The comprehensive nature of this method creates an impression of higher crime levels and this is a recipe for negative publicity and this is unwelcome for some law enforcement agencies (Maddan, 2015). As a result of these bottlenecks, the NIBR system has not been adopted as it should be.

Dependence on paperless reporting is another disadvantage facing this system. This has resulted in a higher need for computers across the agencies that desire to put their data on the system. This forces agencies to either replace their systems to those compliant with the NIBR system or invest in newer computers (Maddan, 2015). This is significant enough to discourage many from participating in this program.

Greatest advantage

NIBRS data is aimed at improving the way in which crime incidents are reported. According to Doerner and Lab (2012), “The greatest advantage of the NIBRS data is the ability of law enforcement and researchers to gain a more in-depth picture of the crime problem and use that information to decide on appropriate courses of action” (p. 24). This is crucial in dealing the problem of crime.


In conclusion, it is crucial to engage all law enforcement agencies and have them enabled to submit to the NIBR data. This will help transition completely from aggregate crime recording to a more accurate representation of criminal behavior. This is important in ensuring data that is gathered is not only accurate but can assist all who access the same to make well-informed decisions.


Doerner, W., & Lab, S. (2012). Victimology. Amsterdam: Elsevier/AP.

Maddan, S. (2015). National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The Encyclopedia Of Crime And Punishment, 1-6.


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