The U.S. Department of Justice announced on October 13 that, early next year, it will start collecting nationwide statistics on police shootings. Surprisingly, until now, comprehensive basic data about the frequency and circumstances of violent encounters between police and citizens in the United States has not been gathered by the government through its Uniform Crime Reporting program. In testimony before Congress last year, the FBI Director, James B. Comey, said,
I think it’s embarrassing for those of us in government who care deeply about these issues, especially the use of force by law enforcement, that we can’t have an informed discussion because we don’t have data. People have data about whowent to a movie last weekend or how many books were sold or how many cases of the flu walked into an emergency room, and I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographics, and that’s a very bad place to be.
The FBI’s pilot program will assemble information on use of force by major federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI itself, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals’ Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The Justice Department will also require reports from state and local law enforcement on deaths occurring in police custody, pursuant to the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, 42 U.S.C. secs. 13727 – 13727a. It also intends to establish a voluntary “police data initiative” to assist local police departments to collect, and to release to the public, more accurate and comprehensive information on police use of force.
The American Civil Liberties Union has objected that voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed in the past. The ACLU seeks greater accountability and imposition of financial penalties for failure to produce such data.
Justice Department Will Track Use of Force by Police Across the Nation, N.Y. Times, Oct. 14, 2016, at A12.
Letter from the ACLU to U.S. Attorney General, Oct. 3, 2016.
Fatal Force, The Washington Post (database of fatal police shootings for 2015 and 2016 “based on news reports, public records, social media and other sources”).
The Counted: People Killed by the Police in the U.S., The Guardian (2016).