FiveThirtyEight noticed that the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, the first released under the Trump administration, was missing 70 percent of the data tables that were included in past editions. The feds fired back, alleging a “false narrative” and claiming that plans to “streamline” the report date to 2010. FiveThirtyEight’s data sleuths are not convinced.
The FBI pushed back when FiveThirtyEight published an article last month revealing that the bureau’s accounting of 2016 national crime data–the first under the Trump administration–was missing almost 70 percent of the data tables that had been included in past. The FBI said removal of the tables was not out of the ordinary. But FiveThirtyEight says the bureau’s claim doesn’t add up. The yearly report is considered the gold standard of crime-trend tracking and is used by law enforcement, researchers, journalists and the general public. Changes to the structure of the report typically go through the Advisory Policy Board (APB), which manages and reviews operational issues for a number of FBI programs. But this change was not reviewed by the APB. One former FBI employee said the decision not to consult with the APB was “shocking.”
The FBI took issue with FiveThirtyEight’s reporting, which Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle called “a false narrative.” A month after the data was released, the agency posted a statement on the data tables noting that a plan to “streamline” the annual Uniform Crime Report had been in the works since 2010. But state-level UCR managers were not informed of it until late 2016. And the FBI had not publicly included the removal of data tables as part of those improvements until the statement it released following the FiveThirtyEight story. Instead, the FBI’s past statements said the agency aimed only to make data available more quickly and to improve digital features to allow users to access more data more easily.