ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently released nationwide 2021 crime data gathered from police departments across the country. The numbers show New Mexico ranks high for crimes against persons, but the numbers don’t reflect crimes investigated by dozens of agencies across New Mexico.
Last year, New Mexico law enforcement agencies reported over 28,000 crimes against persons, including crimes such as murder, rape, assault, and kidnapping. And given New Mexico’s population, the state’s rate of crime against persons per population is the second highest in the nation, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics. But there are some holes in the data.
FBI lacks data on dozens of police agencies across NM
New Mexico has over 125 law enforcement agencies across the state. That includes everything from the Albuquerque Police Department, which has hundreds of officers, to the Bosque Farms Police Department, which has a little over a dozen staff.
But the FBI reports that only 42 (or about 33%) of the agencies in the state participated in the FBI’s data collection in 2021. A detailed analysis of FBI data compiled by The Marshall Project shows that the FBI has a full 12 months of data for only 23 (or about 18%) of the law enforcement offices in New Mexico.
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The FBI lacks data from many law enforcement agencies across New Mexico. Data from FBI and The Marshall Project.
“The FBI realizes that police departments and sheriff’s offices have a lot on their plates,” says Albuquerque FBI spokesperson Frank Fisher. “They’re doing the best job they can.”
Bosque Farm Police Department Chief Andrew Owen told KRQE News 13 that part of the challenge in submitting data is due to a switch to a new nationwide data collection system in 2021. Called the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBERS), the new system collects more details about crime reports than the previous system.
“We contract to Motorola to provide the services on that,” Chief Owen says. “It’s been going through a lot of hiccups over the last six, nine months or so.”
Owen says that his department has submitted all its data for 2021. But the FBI doesn’t list it on the NIBERS system. So, it’s possible that the FBI’s system rejected Bosque Farms’ data due to an error somewhere along the way.
Police Chief Dino Sgambellone, from the Las Alamos Police Department, says that’s what he thinks is happening to Los Alamos’s data. The Marshall Project data shows that the FBI has zero months of data from Los Alamos in 2021, but Sgambellone says they’re submitting it.
“It’s not that we don’t have the data or we’re not submitting the data,” Sgambellone says. “It’s that when our system talks to the state’s [data system] it’s generating some errors, so we’re still working through that.”
The Las Alamos Police Department does have some 2021 data on its website. The third quarter 2021 report shows 19 crimes against persons (mostly assaults) that the police handled but don’t seem to be included in FBI statistics. Bosque Farms Police Department reports would add several more assaults as well.
Todd Wildermuth, the public information officer for the Roswell Police Department, says some issues lie with the state’s Department of Public Safety. Wildermuth explains that they are the central point to which smaller police agencies submit their data. The Department of Public Safety would then forward it to the FBI.
“The state did not have its system where we can upload our stats up and running until earlier this year,” Wildermuth says. “So all of 2021, we were unable to submit because we couldn’t get [the data] to the state to get them to the FBI.”
Herman Lovato, the spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, says there are no issues with the state’s system. “If this was an issue with the DPS system, we would have expected to see wider non-compliance,” he told KRQE News 13 in an email. “New Mexico law enforcement agencies are individually responsible for submitting crime incident and arrest data to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety,” he says. “As of today, 35 agencies, or about 26 percent of New Mexico agencies are not compliant.”
Outside of New Mexico, some other states also have relatively low participation rates in the FBI program. For example, the FBI has data on only two law enforcement departments in Florida for 2021.
Fisher from the FBI says that having data from police departments is important. He explains that it aids in transparency.
“The American people deserve to know what their law enforcement agencies are doing and what type of crime problem exists in their communities,” he says. The data “provides that transparency. It has for many decades. And we think it’s an important way for the American people to know what’s going on in their communities.”