April 2, 2022

The President’s budget, NIBRS, and ghost guns


Dear PERF members,

We all know that crime is largely a local issue, and most of the responsibility for fighting crime falls on local and state governments. But the federal government still plays an important role. Our leaders in Washington, DC, set the national tone on crime, and they can provide the financial support that is so critical to police officers and others on the front lines.

That is why I was struck by two recent events that demonstrate just how much the national narrative on crime has evolved. The first was President Biden’s State of the Union Address; the other was the release of his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Following the tragic events of 2020, some people were encouraging politicians to “defund the police.” Initially, the idea gained some traction, with several cities scaling back or delaying recruit classes or looking to shift some responsibilities away from the police.

Last month, in his State of the Union address, the President made it clear where he stands on the “defund” idea. “We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police,” he said. “I know what works: Investing in crime prevention and community policing – cops who walk the beat, who know the neighborhood, and who can restore trust and safety.”

Then this week, the President backed up those words with action, in the form of his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023. The budget includes support for the police in several significant ways:

  • $3.2 billion in discretionary spending for state and local law enforcement, crime prevention, and community violence intervention. Approximately $537 million of that would go to the COPS Hiring Program – an increase of 118% over current spending.
  • $1 billion to support programs related to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). That’s almost double the amount being spent on VAWA programs this year.
  • A $1.7 billion increase, to $17.4 billion, for DOJ law enforcement, including the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI, U.S. Attorneys and, importantly, the ATF. Recognizing that firearms are driving much of the surge in violent crime, but that Congress is unlikely to pass meaningful gun legislation, the President’s budget provides critical resources for the ATF. It would be able to hire new agents and other personnel for multi-jurisdictional gun trafficking strike forces, expand investigations of manufacturers and federal firearms licensees who break the law, and boost the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) and the National Tracing Center – key resources that help local police identify trigger-pullers and get guns off the street.

What’s especially encouraging about the President’s budget proposal is that it reflects what many of us have been calling for, as we have seen violent crime increase and public trust in the police waver. Over the past several months, the Attorney General’s leadership team and the Domestic Policy Council in the White House have been reaching out to PERF and other organizations for input. They listened to your ideas, and the President’s budget reflects your priorities.

Of course, a President’s budget proposal is just that – a proposal. It is now up to Congress to turn this blueprint into actual appropriations. Let’s hope the members of Congress are paying close attention to the needs of local law enforcement as this process continues.

Working Together to Get Accurate and Timely Crime Statistics

Local law enforcement looks to Washington for direction and funding support, and Washington looks to local agencies for timely information about conditions on the ground. As a country, we can only measure crime and violence if individual law enforcement agencies submit data on the crime occurring in their communities.

This issue is top of mind this week because the FBI recently announced that fewer than 60% of agencies are reporting data through the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. That is below the threshold the FBI set for releasing quarterly crime data at the national level. As a result, the FBI will not be releasing quarterly statistics for 2021, which means we will not have as full a picture of the extent and nature of crime in our country.

In recent years, programs like COMPSTAT have demonstrated the importance of having accurate and timely intelligence, which is crucial at both the local and national levels. If homicides or carjackings are spiking in cities across the country, we need to know about it as quickly as possible. That’s why contributing to a national data collection effort is so critical.

The FBI shifted from the UCR’s Summary Reporting System to NIBRS to capture more detailed information about crime. I take seriously the concerns that the federal government hasn’t provided enough funding or technical assistance to support local agencies’ shift to NIBRS. We won’t successfully transition to the new system without everyone’s efforts.

And help is available. PERF is part of the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X), a Bureau of Justice Statistics initiative to promote the adoption of NIBRS and use a representative sample of NIBRS agencies to estimate national crime trends. The NCS-X website provides a NIBRS playbook that can help agencies navigate the switch to NIBRS. It includes case studies of how other agencies overcame some of the challenges they faced and self-assessments to help agencies figure out exactly where they are starting from and how to get to NIBRS implementation.

Even if your agency already participates in NIBRS, you can play an important role in this national effort by educating and encouraging peer agencies to report, too, and by sharing some of the lessons you learned as your agency moved through the process.

Getting Serious about Ghost Guns

If the federal government and law enforcement rely on each other in various ways, there are some areas where they are still figuring out their respective roles. One example is the emerging problem of ghost guns.

We had two excellent stories in our Daily Clips this week on the topic, including an NBC News report about the leading manufacturer of ghost gun kits, Polymer80, and a San Jose Mercury News article about the San Jose Police Department’s plans to implement a ghost gun buyback program. Over a quarter of the firearms seized by SJPD over the past 14 months have been ghost guns. New York Times columnist Gail Collins also recently wrote about the topic.

We’ve seen this problem coming, and we know it has the possibility to undermine regulations on gun dealers and gun sales. So what are we going to about it? Do we need federal legislation to close some of the loopholes in the law allowing these technologies to proliferate, as well as a permanent ATF director to speak out and lead on this issue? How can local agencies and regional task forces work to stop the influx of ghost guns into their communities? What strategies are showing process.

The topic of ghost guns will be on the agenda at our upcoming Annual Meeting.

Please Join Us at PERF’s Annual Meeting

Speaking of which, I would encourage everyone who has not yet done so to sign up for our Annual Meeting. PERF and the Major Cities Chiefs Association are co-hosting the meeting in San Francisco from Tuesday, May 31 through Friday, June 3. I don’t know about you all, but I’ve missed the in-person interactions with our members over the past two years. I’m looking forward to the lively Town Hall discussion and informal conversations over the course of the week.

Click here for more information or to register.

Have a great weekend!