Accurate U.S. crime data demands more state participation

FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in Hart Building on Thursday, August, 4, 2022.

FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in Hart Building on Thursday, August, 4, 2022. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray discussed federal data reporting from state and local jurisdictions, and how advanced technologies stand to help.

Data collection and quality were frequent themes during a Senate Judiciary hearing featuring the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray. 

The hearing primarily focused on the FBI’s operating procedures when investigating various crimes, including instances of terrorism, gun violence and police brutality. Lawmakers also inquired about the usage of emerging technologies in policing these crimes, including artificial intelligence tools, biometrics and advanced data analysis.

Wray told senators that implementing these technologies into standard operations can help agents and other law enforcement monitor potential domestic threats in a sea of digital information. 

“The FBI, just like other organizations, has a big data problem,” Wray said. “And artificial intelligence is an important tool as we go forward to being better at getting through the mountains of information that gets out there in a more efficient and effective way.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., pressed Wray for more information about the FBI’s law enforcement data collection, particularly surrounding the FBI’s collection of data on instances of police uses of force. 

Booker cited previous plans from the FBI and the Office of Management and Budget to release at least 60% of the data collected on police use of force nationwide, and asked Wray why it has taken so long for the FBI to gather and release this data.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Booker said, regarding the need for an accurate national picture of police force to be compiled by the FBI. Booker asked if the FBI’s data reporting from state and local law enforcement agencies is accurate and efficient. He further cited data from 2021 that estimated nearly 40 percent of state and local agencies did not successfully report their crime data, including from populous areas like New York City.

Wray responded that IT systems vary depending on the state, as well as staff to help record and submit policing and other crime data. 

“The kinds of departments nationwide range wildly in terms of their IT systems, their headcount…so it may vary from place to place,” Wray added. “We try to do what we can to provide assistance to them to figure out how to do it more efficiently,” 

Wray and Booker both voiced support for better federal data sources to help lawmakers improve decision making surrounding law enforcement regulation in the U.S.

“We need as complete data as possible,” Wray said. “And it's in everybody's interest to be able to give the most comprehensive and accurate picture.”

This follows the disclosure of FBI officials running roughly 3.4 million queries on U.S. citizen’s electronic data under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702 provision in 2021. While information stemming from these searches can’t be used against U.S. citizens in formal legal proceedings, it has prompted Congress to introduce new legislation surrounding data privacy for the American people in both the private and public sectors. 

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