The FBI Crime Report Cut Out Data Used By Organizations Fighting Domestic Violence

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Every year, the FBI publishes a report detailing crime rates across the United States, but there's something fishy about the latest 2017 one. The Unified Crime Report underwent a "streamlining" process and now, almost 70 percent of data tables included in the previous year's iteration are missing. Among other types of information absent, the FBI annual crime report omitted the section domestic violence organizations rely upon to track rates of partner violence.

This administration being so public about concerns about violent crime and then limiting the information needed to understand and address it is ironic at best.

In a statement titled "Understanding Changes in Crime in the United States, 2016," the FBI explained that the decision to slash the number of tables in the report was part of a seven year process, referred to as the "UCR-Technical Refresh." The decision to remove certain tables came from an analytics review — that is, they deleted tables that were infrequently viewed online.

"That review, along with the delivery of the [Crime Data Explorer], was the catalyst in the reduction of data tables in the 2016 publication of [Crime in the United States]," the Bureau said, adding that "most of the tables removed from the publication provide alternate views of the same data."

Bustle has reached out to the FBI for comment.

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The decision to remove these data tables has sent some anti-domestic violence organizations reeling. They say that they rely on key points of information, such as the relationship between offenders and victims, to track their own success rates. Without this information readily available, tracking the rate of partner violence in the United States will be extremely difficult, and at times, impossible.

While one year of missing by itself won't stop us from doing our jobs, if it's a trend, it becomes a big problem.

Ruth Glenn, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells Bustle that organizations like hers depend on this data to justify their financial need to donors, as well as in grant applications.

"We get asked quite often, 'how do you know it's a problem?'" she said, referencing partner violence. "Without that information and data, we're not able to respond to that."

While NCADV doesn't use the data on a daily basis, Glenn explained, from a research perspective, UCR data is critical. It allows figures across the criminal justice system — whether they're law enforcement or judges or first responders — to evaluate how they respond to and handle instances of domestic violence.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, put out by the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women (and one in nine men) reported having been victims of sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner that resulted in injury, fear, concern for safety, or needing help; this report also stated that 1 in 4 women specifically experienced what's described as "severe physical violence." A separate report by the CDC indicated that nearly half of female murder victims are killed in relation to partner violence.

Kiersten Stewart, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Futures Without Violence tells Bustle that the only way her organization can work to prevent and eventually end domestic violence is if they understand "who commits what kind of violence to whom."

"We want to be sure our resources are aligned with the problem," Stewart says. "While one year of missing by itself won't stop us from doing our jobs, if it's a trend, it becomes a big problem."

The Crime and Justice Research Alliance was so disturbed by the absence of these crime statistics, that on Wednesday they sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In the letter, written by chairman Peter Wood, the group explained that without access to information they have come to rely upon, it will be difficult for criminologists to track crime:

This has significant implications for the justice research community that relies on this trusted information for a broad range of research activists, including evaluation and assessment of trends in crime, arrests, clearance rates and related matters. Given this administration's public statements about addressing violent crime, victims' rights, the opioid epidemic and terrorism, it is unfortunate that the 2016 report removes key data about these topic areas.

Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and former Chair of CJRA, tells Bustle that while the information should still technically exist within the FBI's files, getting ahold of it when it isn't publicly published can be challenging. Data requests can be time consuming, or sometimes go without any response.

However, La Vigne said she didn't necessarily believe that the FBI chose not to include a swath of crime data maliciously. "It's probably not a deliberate decision, but one that was made without any particular thought to the implications for the field," she explains.

That being said, the missing data does help criminologists devise solutions that combat crime.

One way you figure that out is to understand patterns. But you can't do that when you don't have all the data available. This administration being so public about concerns about violent crime and then limiting the information needed to understand and address it is ironic at best.

According to a report by FiveThirtyEight, changes to the UCR are generally reviewed by a body called the Advisory Policy Board. In this case, however, the APB reportedly did not review the alterations — that decision was reportedly made after consulting the FBI's Office of Public Affairs. The FiveThirtyEight report further called into question whether the decision to remove data tables was truly a seven-year process, based on indications that the "refresh" process was initially supposed to be primarily focused on altering how law enforcement reported data, not on decreasing data tables.