Police

FBI to Better Track Fatal Police Shootings—If the Departments Participate

Extremely inaccurate database to be replaced and revamped

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If you've done nothing wrong …
Credit: matthrono / photo on flickr

The massive inaccuracy of federal figures tracking the number of people killed by police has been a focus of news coverage for the past two years. The FBI's numbers are so inaccurate and dependent on voluntary participation by states and law enforcement agencies that about half are missing. This year, both The Washington Post and The Guardian launched their own independent counts. The Washington Post reports more than 900 police-caused deaths in 2014 so far. The FBI only records about 400 a year.

The FBI has finally announced it is going to revamp and expand its system of tracking police encounters that turn violent with the intent to completely replace the current system by 2017. The Washington Post got the exclusive:

The new effort will go beyond tracking fatal shootings and, for the first time, track any incident in which an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians, including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray and even fists and feet.

"We are responding to a real human outcry," said Stephen L. Morris, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which oversees the data collection. "People want to know what police are doing, and they want to know why they are using force. It always fell to the bottom before. It is now the highest priority." …

Morris said the data will also be "much more granular" than in the past and will probably include the gender and race of officers and suspects involved in these encounters, the level of threat or danger the officer faced, and the types of weapons wielded by either party.

The data also will be collected and shared with the public in "near real-time," as the incidents occur, Morris said, instead of being tallied in aggregate at the end of each year.

There is one hitch that may or may not turn out to be significant. The FBI does not have the legal authority to force local law enforcement agencies to participate in the new system. Reporting will remain voluntary.

So pressure and incentives matter. According to the Post, law enforcement heads who are already agreeing to participate in the new system will lobby others to participate as well. The Department of Justice is looking into offering federal grants to fund the costs of compliance for departments with tight budgets.

Community pressure matters, too. If citizens truly care about the conduct of the police in their neighborhoods, they'll push both the police and their municipal government leaders to provide information for this new database.

And honestly, police shouldn't resist for the same reason that police shouldn't resist body cameras. Yes, 900 police killings a year is a lot, given that there were about 14,000 murders in the United States in 2014. But in the bigger picture, given the hundreds of thousands of police officers out there, better statistics would actually help defend good departments against charges that they abuse their constituencies, just as body cameras result in fewer use-of-force complaints.

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11 responses to “FBI to Better Track Fatal Police Shootings—If the Departments Participate

  1. including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray and even fists and feet.

    left out squad cars.

  2. Geez, Shackford- what the fuck is up with ‘honestly’. You reddit spine is shining through your letters.

  3. The FBI does not have the legal authority to force local law enforcement agencies to participate in the new system. Reporting will remain voluntary.

    Normally, at this point in the story, motivated feds would remind local law enforcement that grants can be revoked at any time.

    1. I was going to suggest the locals don’t get their military gear unless they co?perate.

      1. I was going to suggest the locals don’t get their military gear grade popcorn maker unless they co?perate.

        FTFY

  4. Every state in this sort of magnificent country should have had violence/death-tracking stats on every police station within its borders years ago. It is an unadulterated fucking travesty that citizens cannot track the nature of their suited overlords and to now expect the police unions to voluntarily track and cede data to the FBI causes my face to bleed volatile chuckles.

  5. Community pressure matters, too. If citizens truly care about the conduct of the police in their neighborhoods, they’ll push both the police and their municipal government leaders to provide information for this new database.

    And the cops will say “Oh yeah? Make us.”

  6. I’m going to guess the statistics will be used to bolster a War on Black People narrative, and the underlying problems will remain the same or get worse.

    1. “The statistics show that police departments are using disproportionate force upon blacks. To make things equal, we recommend that departments kill more white people.”

      1. “Already on it, Chief!”

  7. This is not hard. The feds know how to do this. They do it all the time:

    Tell any PD that doesn’t report that they are ineligible for any federal funding at all.

    The fact that the feds haven’t taken this step tells me they really aren’t interested in getting good data.

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