Injury Epidemiology (May 2022)

Measuring gun violence in police data sources: transitioning to NIBRS

  • Susan T. Parker

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 1
pp. 1 – 10


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Abstract Background The majority of gun violence in the United States does not result in physical injury and therefore cannot be completely measured using hospital data. To measure the full scope of gun violence, the nation’s crime reporting systems that collect police reports of crimes committed with a firearm are vital. However, crime data reporting conventions may underestimate gun violence in the U.S. This paper compares crime data sources to assess underestimation of gun violence. Findings The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Summary Reporting System (SRS) and National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) measures of gun violence were compared in 2019 for states comprehensively reporting data to both systems. Gun violence is underestimated in the SRS compared to NIBRS. Within the sample, 18.8% more aggravated assaults with a firearm are recorded and 2.1% more robberies with a firearm are recorded in NIBRS. The proportion of assaults and robberies committed with a firearm measured in both sources did not differ. If the additional gun violence events recorded in the NIBRS sample are consistent with national crime reporting, the number of additional gun violence events per year captured using NIBRS totals approximately 65,071 additional events, or an additional 178 gun violence events per day. Of the additional gun violence events, approximately 31% are due to omitted crime categories, with the remaining variation driven mostly by aggravated assaults with a firearm. Conclusions Police data are important data sources for estimating the full scope of gun violence. Comparisons between police data sources suggest that the proportion of crimes committed with a firearm is unchanged. Due to crime reporting conventions, however, the number of gun violence events may be substantially understated. Despite advantages in measuring gun violence, agency participation in NIBRS is alarmingly low and jeopardizes accurate and reliable national crime data.