FBI to col­lect po­lice use-of-force data

Pro­gram aims to cre­ate a na­tional data­base on deadly and non­fa­tal cases

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION - By Sari Horwitz and Mark Berman

WASHINGTON — The FBI will launch a pi­lot pro­ject early next year to be­gin col­lect­ing use-of-force statis­tics na­tion­wide and cre­ate the first on­line na­tional data­base on both deadly and non­fa­tal in­ter­ac­tions the pub­lic has with law en­force­ment.

“Ac­cu­rate and com­pre­hen­sive data on the use of force by law en­force­ment is es­sen­tial to an in­formed and pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sion about com­mu­nity-po­lice re­la­tions,” At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “The ini­tia­tives we are an­nounc­ing to­day are vi­tal ef­forts to­ward in­creas­ing trans­parency and build­ing trust be­tween law en­force­ment and the com­mu­ni­ties we serve.”

But al­though Lynch can im­pose fi­nan­cial penal­ties on law en­force­ment agen­cies that fail to report data about “civil­ians” who died dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with au­thor­i­ties or in their cus­tody, the Jus­tice Depart­ment can­not re­quire state and lo­cal agen­cies to report the far larger num­ber of such sit­u­a­tions that are not fa­tal. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in the new use-of-force pro­gram by those agen­cies is vol­un­tary.

The ef­fort to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive na­tional use-of-force data­base fol­lows a num­ber of high-pro­file po­lice shoot­ings in the past two years of un­armed African Amer­i­cans. They in­clude 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was fa­tally shot in Fer­gu­son, Mo., by a white po­lice of­fi­cer in 2014, and12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed in Cleve­land by a white po­lice of­fi­cer, also in 2014.

Con­tro­ver­sies have also erupted af­ter deaths that did not in­volve gun­fire. The fa­tal in­jury of 18-year-old Fred­die Gray while in po­lice cus­tody last year sparked wide­spread protests and ri­ots in Bal­ti­more. There were protests last year af­ter Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, died in a county jail in Texas, and a year ear­lier when Eric Gar­ner, a 43-year-old black man, died af­ter be­ing placed in an ap­par­ent choke­hold by a New York po­lice of­fi­cer. FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey called the lack of com­pre­hen­sive na­tional data on the use of force by po­lice “un­ac­cept­able” and “ridiculous.”

Chuck Wexler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Research Fo­rum, a law en­force­ment research and pol­icy group, com­mented: “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to know why one area of the coun­try might have more use-of-force incidents ver­sus another or why one depart­ment com­pares to another. Un­til we have those of­fi­cial statis­tics, we’re work­ing at a deficit.”

In 2015, The Washington Post cre­ated a data­base of 991 fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings and pub­lished a series of ar­ti­cles that de­scribed trends found in the data. So far this year, The Post’s data­base shows that at least 754 peo­ple have been shot and killed by po­lice.

In 2014, Congress passed the Death in Cus­tody Re­port­ing Act, which re­quired the states and fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies to report data to the Jus­tice Depart­ment about the num­ber of peo­ple who died dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with law en­force­ment.

But Congress did not im­pose a sim­i­lar re­port­ing re­quire­ment for non­lethal use of force by law en­force­ment.

Such a re­quire­ment was rec­om­mended in May 2015 by the Pres­i­dent’s Task Force on 21st Cen­tury Policing, which called for law en­force­ment agen­cies to “col­lect, main­tain and report data … on all of­fi­cer in­volved shoot­ings, whether fa­tal or non­fa­tal, as well as any in-cus­tody death.”

The FBI is seek­ing com­ments from lo­cal, state, tribal and fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies as well as civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, to de­velop the new dat­a­col­lec­tion pro­gram, known as the Na­tional Use of Force Data Col­lec­tion. The FBI, the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives, the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice will par­tic­i­pate.

The FBI plans to is­sue a fi­nal pro­posal and be­gin test­ing the pro­gram’s method­ol­ogy early next year. Af­ter six months, the Jus­tice Depart­ment hopes to open the pro­gram up to other law en­force­ment agen­cies.

“In the days ahead, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice will con­tinue to work along­side our lo­cal, state, tribal and fed­eral part­ners to en­sure that we put in place a system to col­lect data that is com­pre­hen­sive, use­ful and re­spon­sive to the needs of the com­mu­ni­ties we serve,” Lynch said.

In a sep­a­rate pro­gram, the Po­lice Data Ini­tia­tive, 127 law en­force­ment agen­cies across the coun­try have com­mit­ted to pub­licly re­leas­ing in­for­ma­tion that in­cludes data on stops and searches, uses of force, of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings and other po­lice ac­tions.

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