The Dallas Morning News
Tristan Hallman

For the Dallas Police Department, there will soon be more than one way to count a crime.

Police officials told members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday that they plan to adopt the National Incident-Based Reporting System, commonly known by the acronym NIBRS. They said the new system will give the public a more in-depth and accurate picture of crime in the city.

But department officials caution that the new system could also make crime in Dallas appear more prevalent at first.

The reporting system, made possible by the department’s updated records software, includes numerous new categories of major crimes — such as gambling, criminal mischief, drug offenses, fraud and bribery — and requires crimes to be reported differently and in more depth than the current Uniform Crime Reporting system. The NIBRS data would also include more detailed information on crime victims.

Dallas commanders have reported massive reductions in crime by showing off UCR data during the last decade. The department will still continue to report UCR stats once NIBRS goes live in about a year or so because grant funding is tied to UCR.

Chief David Brown said he decided to look at transitioning to NIBRS after “constantly hearing about giving more information on crime rather than less.” Some City Council members had repeatedly asked Brown during briefings for information about the number of crime victims and questioned the department’s reporting practices under UCR.

Brown said the price tag of the new system will be about $1 million for additional software and will probably require about six new civilian employees.

Brown has made Maj. Rob Sherwin the department’s point person on the new system. Sherwin said his biggest challenge is to “educate, educate, educate” the public on the new data.

“The biggest deal is getting people to understand that it’s going to be different,” Sherwin said.

The data will knock out UCR’s hierarchy rule, which dictates that the biggest offense is the one that counts. For instance, under UCR guidelines, a robbery that resulted in a murder would be counted only as a murder, not a robbery.

Sherwin said the rule’s elimination won’t have that large of an impact overall. He said the increase in categories could make crime appear to be more frequent.

But Brown said he isn’t worried about the perception of higher crime.

“In my research, that just hasn’t played out,” Brown said. “Every city has been having different experiences.”

Dallas would overtake Fort Worth as the largest city in the state reporting NIBRS data. Fort Worth has used the system since 2006.

Melony Ebel, a public safety support manager in Fort Worth, said the city has experienced few problems since implementing NIBRS.

“It didn’t have any huge effect on our crime other than that we are more transparent,” Ebel said. “And it shows more crime.”

Sherwin said the department already analyzes its crime data internally, but the NIBRS reports will be easier for the public to understand. He said the new records management system, which went live June 1, enables the department to release the information in a digestible format.

He backed Brown’s decision to make the switch to the new reporting system.

“The chief is forward-thinking,” Sherwin said. “I think we’re all going to get forced into it if we don’t do it. That’s a great idea because why be mandated when you’re already on board?”