National Incident-Based Reporting System Essay

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The National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is the U.S. Department of Justice’s incident based crime reporting system that collects information voluntarily submitted by city, county, and state law enforcement agencies. The NIBRS collects a variety of information or attributes about a crime incident after a participating police agency investigates the incident and finds that it involves at least one of 46 possible crime types. NIBRS grew out of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, which the International Association of Chiefs of Police designed in 1929 to provide the United States with standardized crime statistics. The FBI implemented the program in 1930, and since its inception, it has remained virtually unchanged in terms of the summary data collected and format. In the late 1970s, the law enforcement community requested an evaluation of the UCR to understand whether the program could expand so that local police agencies might use it for crime analysis. In 1985, the FBI released the Blueprint for the Future of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which it used along with the help of law enforcement executives to formulate additional guidelines for the UCR program. The FBI then developed NIBRS to codify these guidelines and in 1989 began receiving incident-based data from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. The NIBRS is currently managed by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service Division, which in 1992 was established to serve as its central repository for criminal justice information.

Like its predecessor, the Offenses Known and Clearances by Arrest database, NIBRS contains data from thousands of police departments. But unlike its predecessor, the incident information is not summarized to the agency level. To replace or in concert with the summary information, police departments can submit up to 54 attributes for each incident to their state UCR program or directly to the FBI’s UCR program. However, although its name implies a national scope, it is neither a census nor a representative sample of crime incidents known to U.S. law enforcement agencies. By 2004, 4,521 law enforcement agencies contributed records to the NIBRS, or about 27% of the agencies who submitted UCR summary data to the FBI. Nevertheless, this system still provides a substantial amount of standardized incident-level information extracted from police records systems for researchers to analyze at the incident, offense, victim, and offender levels.

For 10 years, the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) has released NIBRS to researchers for analysis. When combined across the first 10 years of usable data (1995–2004), the system has collected information on over 24 million crime incidents, 27 million offenses, and 26 million offenders and victims. For all 24 million incidents, the system contains detailed information about each offense, including type, weapon use, and bias motivation; the quantity and type of property loss, property description, property value, and drug type and quantity; offender information, such as age, sex, and race; arrestee information, such as arrest date and weapon use; and victim information, such as age, sex, ethnicity, and injuries. One of the key victim attributes is the nature of the relationship between the victim and offender. Although not inclusive of all relationship types, this attribute does provide a police officer with a choice of picking one from a list of 25 victim–offender relationships. Among these 25 categories are several key interpersonal relationships, such as spouse, parent, child, boyfriend or girlfriend, and ex-spouse. Thus, NIBRS provides researchers with information to understand the nature and outcomes of interpersonal violence known to the police.

To facilitate analysis of these data, NACJD distributes them by year and organizes them into 13 linked databases. This format allows for a focus on a variety of aspects of a crime incident by the type of law enforcement agency, population size, or the date and time of the incident. Additional data added to the NIBRS by NACJD also facilitate time-series analysis within a selected jurisdiction, aggregated analysis within a geographical area (e.g., metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area), or evaluations of programs implemented in selected jurisdictions from different states.


  1. Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1999). The structure of family violence: An analysis of selected incidents (Report prepared using the National Incident-Based Reporting System to demonstrate utility of NIBRS No. 13). Retrieved from
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2000, August). National Incident-Based Reporting System: Vol. 1. Data collection guidelines. Retrieved from
  4. National Incident-Based Reporting System resource guide. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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