How Does the Department of Public Safety Track and Report Crime in Colorado?

Colorado has more than 240 law enforcement agencies. These agencies are required by state law to report their crime data on an annual basis to a centralized reporting system maintained by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). CBI shares this data with the FBI as a participant in the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.* The UCR Program collects and reports crime data from all fifty states on an annual basis.

The CBI produces an annual report of Colorado crime data for each previous calendar year. The Colorado Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) also publishes Colorado crime data, along with reports that analyze crime trends and related criminal justice issues.

The FBI UCR program uses two primary methods for data submitted by law enforcement agencies to be categorized and reported to the public. It is important to know the difference between the two methods, as comparing numbers between the two is like comparing apples to oranges and thus will lead to inaccurate conclusions.

National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is the federal system through which law enforcement agencies report all criminal incidents within their jurisdiction in a calendar year. For each incident, law enforcement agencies count and report each offense that occurred during that incident. NIBRS collects data for 52 offenses, plus 10 additional offenses for which only arrests are reported. Beginning in 2013, law enforcement agencies in Colorado transitioned to NIBRS-only reporting.  

Summary Reporting System (SRS or “Summary”) is the federal system through which law enforcement agencies submit summaries of the crimes within their jurisdiction in a calendar year. In Summary Reporting, each criminal incident is summarized to count only the single most serious offense, rather than all offenses that occurred during the incident. With the transition to NIBRS in 2013, Colorado ceased collection of crime data in Summary Reporting format.

What’s the difference?

Primarily, Summary Reporting counts individual instances of crime and summarizes them by the most serious crime that occurred during the incident, while NIBRS counts every offense that occurred during a criminal incident. Thus, NIBRS statistics generally provide counts greater than Summary Reporting counts.  This is not necessarily an indication of more crime, only greater detail regarding the crimes committed.

For example: if an individual burglarized a home, then killed the homeowner…

  • In Summary Reporting the incident would count only the primary offense of murder.

  • In NIBRS the incident would count each offense: one burglary and one murder.

The FBI is moving away from Summary Reporting and towards nationwide use of NIBRS. According to the FBI, this is because NIBRS:

  • Provides greater specificity in reporting offenses.

  • Collects more detailed information, including incident date and time, whether reported offenses were attempted or completed, expanded victim types, relationships of victims to offenders, demographic details, location details, drug- and alcohol-related data, the involvement of gang activity, and more.

  • Helps give context to specific crime problems such as drug/narcotics and sex offenses, as well as modern crime issues like animal cruelty, identity theft, and computer hacking.

  • Provides greater analytic flexibility. Through NIBRS, data users can see many more facets of crime, as well as relationships and connections among these facets.

However, it will take time for law enforcement agencies across the country to transition from Summary Reporting to NIBRS. As of September 2018, Colorado is one of 16 states with 100% NIBRS contribution. The FBI releases an annual Crime in the United States report that utilizes Summary Reporting as its basis. The FBI also releases an annual NIBRS publication.

Colorado Crime Reporting Resources

In September 2018, CBI launched Colorado Crime Stats, an interactive, online resource for crime statistics reported by 245 law enforcement agencies across Colorado. The statistics in Colorado Crime Stats represent the total number of crimes reported by each agency using NIBRS. Users can compare year-to-year crimes and crime rates, and can create customized tables comparing various data points related to crimes. Data in the system goes back to 2013, when Colorado agencies reliably began reporting their crime data using NIBRS. Colorado Crime Stats replaces the annual CBI Crime in Colorado Report, which relied on Summary Reporting data.

DCJ provides numerous resources related to reporting and analyzing crime in Colorado. The Office of Research and Statistics web site features an interactive Crime Statistics page featuring demographic trends, crime rates, arrest rates, incarceration rates, and correctional populations. The crime and arrest rate data on this page is based on Summary Reporting statistics. Therefore, data on this page will differ from the CBI Colorado Crime Stats page because of the inherent differences between Summary Reporting and NIBRS (see explanation above). The DCJ Crime Statistics page relies on Summary Reporting data because of the historically longer availability of data and broader availability across the country; although Summary Reporting does not provide as thorough of an accounting of the offenses that occurred during each criminal incident, the consistent nationwide collection of Summary Reporting data over more than 20 years allows for a longer perspective of crime trends as well as a greater ability to compare Colorado trends to national trends.

Experts in the DCJ Office of Research and Statistics also analyze a wide variety of data sources (including NIBRS and Summary) to publish various reports on trends in crime and the criminal justice system in Colorado. Users can browse the reports on the Reports and Documents page.

*Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) refers to the system or program for collecting data from law enforcement agencies in a consistent way in order to enable accurate tracking of data across time and different jurisdictions. Historically in some jurisdictions, UCR was synonymous with the Summary Reporting tool of data collection. However, today UCR encompasses both Summary Reporting and NIBRS data.