Wyoming Highway Patrol says it will soon report crime data to state, feds for the first time

Sep. 2—CHEYENNE — Missing data is preventing people from getting a clear picture of crime and policing in Wyoming, some say.

To date, Wyoming Highway Patrol has yet to submit any data to the federal reporting system since the state was certified in 2018.

Critics have raised questions about why the agency has taken so long to pass the necessary tests to report its criminal incident data. WHP says it's working on it and will begin reporting before the end of the year.

"Last I heard from the Highway Patrol is, like, they passed their NIBRS test phase ... and they're obtaining their certification," Sabrina King, founder of King Consulting, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. "NIBRS has been a thing since 2018. There's no reason that they're so slow moving in this.

"The Highway Patrol is just this black box in terms of like, who are they pulling over? What does it look like?" said King, who used to represent the ACLU of Wyoming. "I have zero sense of the kinds of things that they're charging."

Federally, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In Wyoming, the state's Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is responsible for assembling the statewide Uniform Crime Report (UCR) every year. All data on crime in the state is funneled through DCI.

According to the DCI website, annual crime reports in the state (like the UCR) date back to 1999, but Wyoming was officially certified to report to NIBRS in 2018.

The Highway Patrol is the largest agency in the state that has yet to report data through this system.

Earlier this year, WHP began a test phase for NIBRS reporting, with the intent to get certification before the end of the year.

WHP maintains that the years it has taken for the agency to comply with NIBRS is the result of an outdated records and dispatch system, which has since been updated. Agency officials say there have been years of trial and error to get the new system ready.

Maj. Karl Germain told the WTE that, if all goes well, WHP will be NIBRS certified next month. While a few months of data could be submitted and used for a 2023 statewide UCR report, the first full year for reporting would be 2024, if the agency passes the six-month test phase for data submission.

"Our previous vendor had the capability to report UCR," Germain told the WTE. "The way we had that software set up, it was so customized to the agency that we fell so far behind in updates that it was nonfunctional software. So, we recognize that, and it was extremely difficult for us to gather information. But we did our best, we tried to gather all of it.

"Never to want to hide any information or not be transparent, but these softwares, to upgrade, at that time, with that company, we're talking $200,000 to $300,000 at a whack just to upgrade, and budgets are not free-flowing. So, to get money to upgrade was difficult."

The new system, provided by Tyler Technologies, was implemented in September of 2018. Germain said it took around a year-and-a-half to get the entire agency up to speed with the system, and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for staff at the agency to fully acclimate to the new software.

"We even went through one or two upgrades during that period," Germain said, "with the goal of always reporting NIBRS. That was a top priority. I mean, even before we went live with the software, we were already mapping out NIBRS. We had already sent all of our team members to training for NIBRS, both at the user and supervisor level."

In order to become certified, WHP must submit six months of data to NIBRS without any errors. Because of issues with vendors in the past, records custodians at WHP say they have had a difficult time submitting clean data.

"There's always three parts of software: you have the software, the hardware and the user," Germain said. "And, if any one of those three are out of whack, something doesn't work. ... I think December of (2021) is when we started sending, like, official test pieces to DCI. That's going over, and they're saying, 'Hey, your data is not coming across correctly, you need to work with the vendor to fix a, b, and c.' So you go back to the vendor, 'This is broken.' There's four to six weeks of back-and-forth, trying to get upgrades, and then they fix it. You try again."

WHP has a team of multiple people, including Records Supervisor Geetha Murugesu, who are responsible for compiling and checking data to verify reports by troopers. They review evidence, check databases for prior arrests, and have access to dashboard and body cam footage from officers.

Much of the trial and error between DCI, NIBRS, WHP and officers has to be sorted out by the records department. Sometimes, once the data is compiled into a coded format to send to DCI, Murugesu and her team must find discrepancies in complex code files, regardless of their experience coding.

At a NIBRS training seminar, Murugesu recalled hearing someone from Laramie say that they had failed seven times at getting NIBRS certified. She said they will not make the same mistakes, and the agency's new software is paving the way for more seamless data reporting.

"It's all in one platform — (dispatch), mobile and records," Murugesu said. "It made it ... easier for us to be able to say, 'No, this is how the workflow should be.' I'm so excited to mention that we are the one agency that ... on the first submission of the test in May that we didn't fail. We are continuously passing every month of our data with DCI, and I think that was a huge accomplishment."

Germain added that having a better system to submit data would benefit national crime data collection, as well.

"Basically ... the goal is to have all law enforcement agencies report into it," he said. "Then, you can have a more accurate picture of national crime statistics."

WHP expects to submit clean data to DCI and pass in October, setting up the agency to fill a major gap in previous DCI reports about the state. However, according to the DCI's Crime in Wyoming 2022 UCR, 13 municipal police and sheriff's departments did not report any data, including the Casper Police Department and Fremont County Sheriff's Department. One agency, the Evansville Police Department, submitted four months of data that could be used in the report.

Gaps will continue in statewide and national crime reporting until all agencies in the state report crime data to DCI and NIBRS.

Samir Knox is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice and public safety reporter. He can be reached by email at sknox@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3152. Follow him on Twitter at @bySamirKnox.