Why we don’t know how bad crime really is in the US

Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies across the country did not report their 2021 crime data to the FBI. That includes cities like New York and Los Angeles. And another 20% reported incomplete data, including the city of Chicago. That’s all according to information provided to local Axios from a partnership with the Marshall Project.

  • Also, President Biden’s balancing act on Saudi Arabia
  • And, the value of encouraging our children to debate

Guests: Dave Lawler, Monica Eng and Jessica Pandey of Axios.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. The music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can send questions, comments, and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice message at 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios today! It’s Wednesday, June 15. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re looking at today: why we don’t know how bad crime really is in the US Also, the value of encouraging our kids to debate. But first: President Biden’s balancing act with Saudi Arabia…is today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: The White House announced yesterday that President Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in July, where he is expected to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The White House wants to tackle high oil prices, but it also faces pressure to hold Saudi Arabia accountable on human rights. Explaining what’s behind all this is Axios World Editor Dave Lawler. Hi Dave.


NIALA: Dave first, we heard different things yesterday from the US and Saudi Arabia about the purpose of the trip and who is meeting who.

DAVE: Yeah, so it was very interesting. I was in this briefing call that the White House made, to establish the stops of the trip. And they said, he will meet “his Saudi hosts of him” and then asked who he was, he said King Salman, the father of the crown prince, and finally he said, and he will probably see the crown prince. When the Saudis made their own announcement, they explicitly said that Biden and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would meet. And this was obviously the big question mark that hung around before this trip. Because Biden said on the campaign trail that he was ready to make a pariah of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his human rights abuses. Now, as you said, oil prices are through the roof, they have business they want to do with the Saudis, and Biden right now is willing to have a meeting with the crown prince, despite the criticism that they know will come on this.

NIALA: Right, so this was a brutal murder of a Washington Post columnist. What has been the Biden administration’s response to criticism that this all seems to have gone out the window due to high oil prices?

DAVE: Yes. So if we go back to the beginning of the administration, they released this document, basically blaming the crown prince, uh, saying he’s responsible for what happened, on Jamal Khashoggi. Those criticisms came from the beginning, but at the same time there was also an acknowledgment from the White House that they would have to, you know, interact with the Saudis. And so it was, how do you handle that? How do they both interact with the Saudis on things like Iran, which was one of the pressing issues, but also, you know, how do they stay away from the crown prince himself? Now they have decided, I suppose, that that is untenable and that Biden will meet with the crown prince. What they say is: “We have restored this relationship, but we don’t want to break this relationship.” Basically, there are American interests that are tied to the relationship with Saudi Arabia and we don’t want to undermine our own interests by isolating the crown prince. Obviously, when the two of them shake hands, if there’s a photographer in the room, that’s a picture they don’t want to go around the world with, but it’s a decision they’ve decided this meeting is worth having.

NIALA: President Biden also plans to visit the occupied West Bank during this trip and meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. What do we hope to see out of that meeting?

DAVE: So this could be a pretty tense meeting. Biden also promised during the campaign to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which was the main point, you know, where diplomacy with the Palestinians took place. They have not done so mainly due to political pressure from the Israeli side. The Palestinians think that basically the Biden administration has gone out of its way to accommodate Israel, has not taken into account their needs as much as they would like. The White House has been conducting some diplomacy with the Palestinians ahead of the visit to try to reduce some of those concerns and try to facilitate a more friendly meeting with Abbas. But the atmosphere is not particularly warm, ahead of that meeting.

DAVE: Axios World Editor, Dave Lawler. thanks dave

DAVE: Thank you Niala.

NIALA At one point, the lack of data on crime in the US made it difficult to fact-check politicians.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. Nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies across the country did not report their 2021 crime data to the FBI. That includes cities like New York and Los Angeles. And another 20% reported incomplete data, including the city of Chicago. That’s all according to information provided to local Axios from a partnership with the nonprofit Marshall Project, and Axios Chicago reporter Monica Eng is here with more. Hello Monica.


NIALA: So let’s talk about Chicago. Chicago reported only half of its 2021 crime data. Why?

MONICA: Well, it was about seven months. Yes, about half. And they said they were, you know, transitioning to this new system. And by the time they started using the new system, they only had seven months left to report. Why they didn’t come back and report the other five months, they didn’t tell us.

NIALA: Why did the change happen in the first place?

MONICA: Well, the FBI wanted to move to a reporting system that would gather more specific information about each incident. And what we found from reporting this in so many different areas where local Axios reporters work, is that every different law enforcement agency, whether it’s state, local or county, has a different way of reporting these things.

NIALA: Is that the same explanation that other cities have also given why this data is so incomplete last year?

MONICA: Yeah, we’re hearing a variety of reasons, but most of them have to do with transition. Some in Peoria, for example, in Illinois, said last week they finally got certified to start uploading because they had coding issues with their provider. And you’re hearing this across the state that it was this technical issue or this department didn’t transfer it to this department. But others say, you know, guys, they had several years to make this change. Why did you do it at the last minute?

NIALA: Where else are we seeing gaps in other cities then? We mentioned New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. You mentioned Peoria. Is this happening across the country?

MONICA: Yeah. I mean, our colleagues in Philadelphia, um, said they were told that the Philadelphia Police Department couldn’t collect their data until the new reporting system went live in April. And De Moines, they said they switched to a new records management system that wasn’t compatible with the Iowa system. When you look at the map that we have on axios.com, you see some of the biggest problems are in Illinois, Florida, California and then in the area around Philadelphia and New York.

NIALA: This seems particularly problematic because crime is top of mind for many voters this year. We just saw this, for example, last week in the California primary, do we know that this becomes a political talking point, if people are talking about the right information?

MONICA: Well, I mean, without at least 40% of the reports from the department, you know, there’s a huge gap and that makes it more difficult to make claims. It makes it harder to analyze crime trends and makes it harder to verify the claims politicians are making about cities.

NIALA: Monica Eng is a local reporter for Axios in Chicago. Thanks, Monica.

MONICA: Thank you.

NIALA: One last thing for you to think about today: most parents want their children to stop arguing. But it turns out that we might want to encourage them to do it more; when done systematically and respectfully, it can help develop leadership skills… Oprah Winfrey, several US presidents, and four Supreme Court justices were high school debaters. I asked Erica Pandey from Axios about her report on how debate skills help us become better at disagreeing…in split time.

ERICA PANDEY: So it turns out that some of the most influential people we know, like Bruce Springsteen, like Ketanji Brown Jackson, like Indra Nooyi, were all high school debaters. And the reason high school debate is one of the most effective ways to prepare for leadership and for influencing society is because you learn these critical skills. And that’s what Bo Seo, who was a Harvard debate coach, was writing about in his new book ‘Good Arguments.’ We’re all pretty terrible at disagreeing with each other respectfully. But the debaters learn the basic principles of the arguments and the breakdown, the arguments in the physics of what is going on. What is the point? Because it’s true? Who cares? And when it comes down to this, it becomes easier to be clear, to be persuasive and to see the other side. That’s the Axios business reporter, Erica Pandey.

NIALA: That’s all we have for you today! Text me your feedback and story ideas: I’m at (202) 918-4893. This is Niala Boodhoo, thanks for listening, stay safe and see you here tomorrow morning.

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