InDiscussion: Maricopa Police Chief Hughes on crime reporting

Maricopa Police Chief James Hughes [Merenzi Young]

In 2021, the Maricopa Police Department transitioned from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system to the FBI’s National Incident Based Reporting System, also known as “NIBRS.”

The switch, which became official last month, was long overdue, according to Maricopa Police Chief James Hughes.

“The old system has been around since 1930,” Hughes said. “I think when you consider that fact alone, it’s time for an update.”

Hughes believes the new system will offer a more detailed picture of crime activity in the city for current and future citizens.

In fact, NIBRS was created by the FBI to improve the overall quality of crime data collected by law enforcement. It captures details on each crime incident — as well as separate offenses within the same incident — including information on victims, known offenders and relationships between offenders, arrestees and property involved in crimes. To fully understand the effects that NIBORS will have on crime reporting, it’s a good idea to look back at the UCR system.

As Hughes explained, the older system was also created by the FBI, but tallies crime in a different manner that misses the big picture sometimes.

“It just focuses on what they call the eight major index crimes,” Hughes said. They are homicide, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, larceny over $50, vehicle theft and arson.

Using the UCR method, some crimes are overlooked statistically for others that are deemed worse.

“Let’s say you have someone who robs a convenience store, forcibly takes the keys from someone, steals their car, then drives out and runs from the police, takes out a stop sign before getting arrested and is under the influence and has drugs in his possession,” Hughes explained. “That would be 10 or 11 crimes in this one embellished example.”

The UCR system required that all those crimes be represented by the highest, or worst crime, Hughes said. “We’d only report the highest one,” he said. “We’d only report the armed robbery and none of the others.”

Hughes noted the other crimes would be tallied, investigated and prosecuted, but for the purpose of calculating crime rates, only the armed robbery would be considered.

“Actually, there’s one exception,” Hughes added. “The DUI would be picked up in Part Two. In UCR reporting, there are two parts. Part One crimes are the more serious crimes, which consist of major felonies, person-related violence. Then there are Part Two crimes, which include disorderly conduct, drug offenses and DUI offenses.
NIBRS’ more comprehensive approach to reporting crime results in better analysis of the statistics.

“If you take my earlier example, there were many crimes there that wouldn’t get reported,” he said. “I think there were victims of those crimes, and they deserve to be counted.”

But to get those numbers, the department had to purchase a new crime reporting module that would allow for the new pull-down menus. In addition, training was needed.

The level of detail provided by the new system impressed Hughes.
Hughes is a numbers guy. He feels the expanded numbers will offer a greater understanding of how to better allocate department resources and help elsewhere, too.

“It’s a little bit more work upfront for the officers, but I like it,” Hughes said. “Then, we can really identify the problems we have in our community. So that’s more data. That’s all stuff that’s being done internally, but it just provides a better view of public-facing crime.”

As the city grows in population and commerce, other aspects of crime will come to the forefront, but with the new system, it will have proper context, Hughes said.

Let’s say there’s six big-box retail stores in the city,” Hughes said. “And they have aggressive loss-prevention policies. That’s going to mean more shoplifting crimes reported. If someone is wanting to move to Maricopa from Virginia, they’ll be able to look at the crime reports online before coming here and see that the crimes are shoplifting and not violent crimes, like theft and murder. They can make the decision about whether this is a place they want to raise a family.”

The department ran both UCR and NIBRS simultaneously for all of 2021. As of January, the department dropped the antiquated UCR system.

The challenges of getting started

The new numbers will no doubt prove useful in understanding city crime and improving public safety, but the process to get the technology right was itself a fascinating story.

When MPD was trying to initiate the switch from UCR to NIBRS, its records management vendor, Spillman, was bought by Motorola.

“That product really degraded over the course of a year,” Hughes said. “Customer service was so bad. They wouldn’t offer any training and finally, we said ‘We’re done.’”

MPD switched to Axon.

“(Axon) didn’t meet a lot of the milestone promises that we expected to be met,” Hughes said.

With a desire to move forward, Hughes brought Motorola back into the picture and played the two companies against one another.

“Motorola took notice,” Hughes said, “As to almost say, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, someone’s taking our cookies,’ so then Motorola got their stuff together and then we were able to leverage our partnership with Axon to get the stuff that we needed and get our system up and running.”

On top of that, Hughes expects a refund.

“We actually paid $25,000 for the module,” Hughes said. “It was close to two years ago, and I’m getting our money back because it wasn’t completed in time.”

This story was first published in the February edition of InMaricopa magazine.