Use of Force

Most Police Forces Still Refuse Transparency When it Comes to Use-of-Force Statistics

Fewer than .31 percent of law enforcement agencies are willing to make their use-of-force data public or share it with the federal government.


A mere 53 law enforcement jurisdictions (out of more than 17,000 nationwide)

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Martin Šandera/

have signed on to the White House's Police Data Initiative, which was introduced last year in an attempt to address what FBI Director James Comey called an "embarrassing and ridiculous" lack of transparency regarding the use-of-force by police. The White House announced the numbers in a public briefing last Friday. 

Though a few major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, and Baltimore have been willing to voluntarily provide the federal government (and the public) with use-of-force data, about 85 percent of the U.S. population lives in jurisdictions which continue to refuse efforts to build a national database on use-of-force statistics. As Tom Jackman of the Washington Post notes, "The federal government cannot require local police agencies to do such reporting, so the program is voluntary."

In 2014, President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released a report recommending police "emphasize the opportunity for departments to better use data and technology to build community trust." But this sentiment is really nothing new, even the 1994 Crime Control Act (which has become a major bone of contention in this year's Democratic primary because of its contribution to mass incarceration) contains a provision requiring the Attorney General to collect use-of-force data from all 17,000 jurisdictions. But the onus is on the AG, not the departments themselves, so nothing happened.

In the meantime, journalists and activists have picked up the slack where the government continues to fail. The Washington Post recently won a Pulitzer Prize for its ongoing police shooting database, and The Guardian and websites such as Fatal Encounters and Killed By Police continue to maintain their own databases, as well.

Campaign Zero, a group affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, launched the Police Use of Force Project earlier this year, an open source database of more than 100 police departments' use-of-force policies collected through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. 

It is extraordinary how much data the government demands — or simply takes — from its citizens, yet America's "top cop" is legally prevented from requiring officers of the state to be transparent and publicly accountable regarding the ultimate in state power: the taking of a life of a citizen.