Sheriff’s Office looking to switch to new crime statistics collection method

EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office will soon change how crimes are reported, pending grant funding from the governor’s office.

The office received approval from county commissioners Tuesday to apply for a grant to fund software needed to switch over to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS for short, a more detailed method of collecting and reporting crime statistics.

Under NIBRS, law enforcement agencies collect data on more than 50 types of crimes, ranging from murder to extortion, a crime not counted under the FBI’s Summary Reporting System, or SRS. The SRS, currently used by HSCO, only counts eight crimes: murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, vehicle theft and other theft.

“It’s a lot more accurate and more detailed data so we can use it to then identity crime trends for those specific crimes,” said Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra. “You’ll be able to extract the facts out of each incident — it will give you a realistic picture of what’s going on.”

NIBRS captures data on details not included in SRS, such as the types and quantities of drugs involved, the types of damaged or stolen property and the relationships between victims and offenders.

Guerra is optimistic the office will receive the grant because HCSO was previously awarded funding to make the switch in 2016. The sheriff’s office returned that grant, however, because it was unable to spend the money in the required timeframe due to a records management system upgrade that took precedence.

HCSO is also under a limited timeframe to make the switch: A 2015 state law requires Texas law enforcement agencies to transition to NIBRS by 2019, two years before the deadline the FBI set for agencies nationwide.

Despite its benefits, switching to NIBRS will make comparisons to previous years more difficult because agencies will only be able to compare the eight SRS categories, which are still part of NIBRS.

“You won’t be comparing apples to apples if you compare NIBRS to (the standard Uniform Crime Report),” Guerra said. “You’re just starting fresh; it’s a clean slate of what you’re reporting.”

Crimes will also appear to be on the rise because under SRS, an incident was recorded once, based on the most serious crime committed. Under NIBRS, multiple offenses could result from a single report.

“If the (crime) rate happens to be higher under NIBRS … it is merely a more accurate reflection of crime that has already been occurring,” the FBI noted on its website.

Guerra said once the office receives the grant, which could take a few months, his deputies and investigators should be using NIBRS within a month or two.