published Monday, September 23rd, 2013

FBI, Alabama disagree on crime statistics

Violent crime in Alabama was up last year compared with 2011. But how much higher was it?

Personnel from the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation can't agree. Each year, both agencies collect crime statistics. And, each year, each agency presents those stats in its own report.

In "Crime in Alabama 2012," released July 31, the justice information center said violent crime in the state had increased 3 percent from 2011 to 2012. But on Sept. 16, the FBI released its own Uniform Crime Report stating that violent crime went up about 7 percent.

The agencies define violent crime as murders, manslaughters, rapes, robberies and assaults. In its report, the FBI says about 1,000 more of these crimes occurred in Alabama than the state agency believes happened.

The difference seems petty, perhaps unimportant. But Carol Roberts, the ACJIC's public information specialist, said inaccurate information has real effects.

Annual crime reports let politicians and law enforcement leaders look at statistics and figure out what parts of states and cities need the most resources. If rapes are particularly high in one city, for example, officials can study why the crime happens more there and push for a change -- perhaps more funding for a rape crisis center, for example.

Overall, the FBI says violent crime in the United States increased by less than 1 percent from 2011 to 2012. In Georgia, it increased about 3 percent. In Tennessee, about 6 percent.

So what about Alabama? Was it 3 percent or 7 percent? And why the dispute?

Here is how the information flows: Every year, members of the state information center collect crime stats from every law enforcement agency in the state and forward them to the FBI. The ACJIC and FBI each publishes a report.

The FBI believes that not all crime gets reported to the state agency, so it adjusts the stats. But the difference isn't significant. The FBI's figures for crimes in Alabama should be almost the same as the ACJIC's.

But this year, the numbers don't line up. And the difference seems to revolve, in large part, around Montgomery. The FBI said 827 violent crimes happened there, up 14 percent from the previous year. The ACJIC said the figure is actually 512, down 14 percent.

Why did this happen? FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer blames the problem on deadlines. The ACJIC's report came out about two months before the FBI's, so maybe the state agency didn't have time to collect all the stats for the year.

Roberts said this isn't true. The ACJIC gets its crime numbers from the local law enforcement agencies by Jan. 31. Then, about a month and a half later, it forwards the numbers to the FBI.

And there is no reason for Montgomery's stats to be a problem, Roberts said. The employees in Montgomery gave their 2012 figures to the state agency in time.

"We still don't know what they did," Roberts said of the FBI. "But it's still something they did."

Roberts said members of both agencies are working together to figure out the problem and fix it.

They have until December to correct the issue.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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