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.

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

See no data.
Martin Šandera/Dreamstime.com

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. 

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  1. It’s a good idea. The States should get on that.

  2. 1/3 of 1% huh? Which Bugtussle sherrif’s dept. Broke the code?

  3. OT but police-related: I was stopped this morning for speeding, and the officer issued me a speeding ticket. This is my first ticket for anything, ever, so I was curious what I should do next. Should I go ahead and pay it? Should I contest it? Can I prevent it from appearing on my driving record? The answer to the latter question is more important to me than the dollar cost of the ticket because then I have to report in an addendum to my Character and Fitness bar application. I doubt the local lawyer’s guild would care, but it would be another annoying administrative task that I’d like to avoid.

    1. Chances are you can do deferred adjudication. It will cost the same or more, but it won’t go on your record.

      1. Yeah – don’t most places have something like this. It’s no skin off their back, they still get their money. Here in MN I paid a 50% premium on a phony-baloney “failure to signal” ticket – the city was more than willing to take more of my money in exchange for keeping my record clean.

      2. OK, I think this is the law that would apply to my case:

        [MCA ?] 61-8-725. Penalty for violation of speed limits — no record for certain violations. (1) A person shall be fined for violating the maximum speed limit in accordance with the following schedules:
        (a) for a violation of 61-8-303(1)(a):
        Amount of Fine
        $40
        MPH in Excess of Speed Limit
        1 – 10 (daytime)

        (2) (a) A violation of a speed limit imposed pursuant to 61-8-303 is not a criminal offense within the meaning of 3-1-317, 45-2-101, 46-18-236, 61-8-104, and 61-8-711 and, except as provided in subsection (2)(b) or (4), may not be recorded or charged against a driver’s record, and an insurance company may not hold a violation of a speed limit against the insured or increase premiums because of the violation if the speed limit is exceeded by no more than:
        (i) 10 miles an hour during the daytime

        (5) This section does not apply to the violation of a special speed zone established under 61-8-309 or 61-8-310.

        Hopefully (5) does not apply.

    2. Can I prevent it from appearing on my driving record?

      Where are you located? I don’t know your state laws, but traffic school here in CA will keep the point off the DMV record. If I were you, I’d keep extending the court date and then see if the cop shows up to court. You’re a lawyer. Come up with some fancy lawyer stuff questions and see if you can confuse the cop and get the ticker dismissed, just like in the movies.

      1. Montana. I could probably find the answer myself, but I’m a lazy fuck.

        1. The ticket*, even. I was more scared of hitting a family of deer and killing everyone (me included) when driving through MT than any cop.

        2. CW,

          Perhaps you could obtain your driving record from the Division of Motor Vehicles (probably for a fee) beforehand and take it with you on the scheduled court date.* When called you should be formal and polite, and when the judge asks how you will plead (quite often this is after the officer has relayed his information), consider answering with a plea of Nolo Contendere, which may sway the judge since he or she may appreciate that you are trusting his or her experience and wisdom.

          You could then ask permission to present the DMV record and state (again – with respect and civility) that this is your first traffic violation, that you are willing to take a Driver’s Training/Education Course, and that you would appreciate it if the judge (my understanding is that you should use “Your Honor” every time you refer to him or her) would consider lessening any penalty or see fit to dismiss the case.

          If you take this advice, I would also recommend you bring a new/clean manila folder in which to carry your past driving record (a briefcase might seem too much) and have the documentation paper clipped inside so as not to have the paperwork drop out if you’re nervous.

          *Bathe, dress well, et cetera, and rehearse what you intend to say several times, preferably a few times before more or less objective observers (fellow students perhaps, as friends may overlook many slip-ups).

          1. I was thinking about pleading no contest. Good advice.

            1. I wouldn’t bet much money that no contest is any better than guilty when it comes to the DMV.

              1. Would you explain the deferred-adjudication approach a little more?

      2. I was going 40 in a 30. Montana used to have the “reasonable and prudent” speed standard, at least on the highways. Under that standard, I think I would have had a good chance of beating it: four-lane road with no other vehicles within 100 feet of me, no pedestrians, a bright sunny morning, and in a commercial zone.

        1. I was writing my below when you posted this, so that answers my last question. So minor offence. My other questions stand.

    3. ticket because then I have to report in an addendum to my Character and Fitness bar application. I doubt the local lawyer’s guild would care, but it would be another annoying administrative task that I’d like to avoid.

      This kind of changes the character of the problem.

      For anyone else, I would ask myself the simple question: Was I actually speeding, and does the ticket reflect the speeding accurately? If so, pay the ticket. Fighting city hall is an uphill battle (trust me, I’ve tried).

      If there’s anything that makes you believe the speeding ticket isn’t accurate or fair, then I would recommend fighting it.

      But whatever this ‘character and fitness’ bar thingy is… I don’t know what the implications of a speeding ticket are. If I may ask, what was the speeding ticket for? How much over?

      there’s a big difference between going 50 in a 40, and doing 90 in a school zone.

      1. If there’s anything that makes you believe the speeding ticket isn’t accurate or fair, then I would recommend fighting it.

        It’s accurate insofar as I committed a technical violation of the speed limit, but based on the other facts I listed, I would argue this is a victimless crime and no one was ever in any danger. Of course, a technical violation is a technical violation.

        But whatever this ‘character and fitness’ bar thingy is… I don’t know what the implications of a speeding ticket are.

        The Lawyers Guild, aka the ABA (and more accurately, every state’s top court), requires admission to the state bar to legally practice law in that state. One of the admission components is a “Character and Fitness” examination; ABA attorneys review whether you’re fit to practice law in the state, and they want to see everything – and I mean everything – that could possibly impinge on your character.

        1. […] based on the other facts I listed, I would argue this is a victimless crime and no one was ever in any danger.

          Not to be a dick, but to be a dick, this is all great libertarian theory stuff. I’m not sure how a municipal judge will receive these arguments when it’s 330 pm, he’s been in traffic court all day, he’s tired, and really wishes people would stop fighting tickets because it clogs up his court. Maybe I’m overcautious, but this kind of stuff feels like it could backfire.

          Example: I had a bogus parking ticket issued to me to an address in the city which did not exist. This was in the midst of a known ‘computer’ scandal in my city, where their new ‘ticketing system’ was known in the media to be flawed, broken and just generally fucked up.

          I contested the parking ticket. The city told me not only “fuck you pay me” but “fuck you pay me now, or we’re issuing a bench warrant for your arrest”.

          After fighting for three months, consulting with a real life lawyer and writing a letter to a judge (who was a personal friend of the lawyer), the city dropped the $150 in late charges and told me “fuck you pay me the original amount of the ticket”. that was the best I could do. Your Mileage May Vary.

          and they want to see everything – and I mean everything – that could possibly impinge on your character.

          I understand… you might look at Night Elf’s comments for inspiration on that front.

          1. Not to be a dick, but to be a dick, this is all great libertarian theory stuff. I’m not sure how a municipal judge will receive these arguments when it’s 330 pm, he’s been in traffic court all day, he’s tired, and really wishes people would stop fighting tickets because it clogs up his court. Maybe I’m overcautious, but this kind of stuff feels like it could backfire.

            Oh, I wasn’t proposing that I should argue that before the judge. I was just doing my little libertarian commentary on the whole thing. Hence the “technical violation is a technical violation” sentence that followed.

    4. I told the bar that I had too many speeding tickets in too many jurisdictions — and more than a few eventually rectified “failure to appear” warrants associated with them — even to be able to try to list them all. Made zero difference.

      1. I was going to throw out some snark and say “I have no doubt that a DWI is probably a prerequisite for the bar”, but then I thought better of it. If what you say is true, sounds like it wouldn’t have been far from the truth.

        1. The bar didn’t care. The Global Entry program didn’t care. DPS didn’t care when I got my CHL. Buncha misdemeanors. DWI is a whole ‘nother animal.

          1. If I were doing a character and fitness report, speeding tickets wouldn’t get my attention. But FTAs would raise an eyebrow.

            1. Either they simply absolutely don’t care about them or they stop caring after some amount of time.

              Global Entry knew stuff that, theoretically, “never happened.” My best guess is that outside of some window, they care about your honesty in mentioning the stuff than the actual stuff. I suppose the FTA might hose me if I ever needed an arbitrarily high security clearance, but Global Entry, let alone the bar, doesn’t care.

    5. I’m not sure what your state bar’s requirements are, but for Texas we just had to report it without any additional documentation. However, the USPTO made me provide copies of the ticket, resolution of the infraction, and a summary of the events of the “offense”, which ended up being an enormous, time-consuming hassle. So I’d say it’s less about the appearance of the offense and more about what kind of documentation you have to provide.

  4. Not really any of the feds’ business, is it?

    1. Ensuring states comply with constitutional guarantees is a federal responsibility.

    2. I agree but most people don’t understand that they need to vote the bums out at the local level. I’m talking about mayors, prosecutors, sheriffs, councilmen, judges, state legislators and anybody else that covers for these thugs or signs their union contracts.

  5. “The federal government cannot require local police agencies to do such reporting, so the program is voluntary.”

    It can do the Clinton blackmail thing though by not sending money to the agencies that don’t volunteer.

    Funny that this administration can’t even get Rahm Emmanuel’s police to volunteer.

  6. This is one of the few scenarios where “if you have nothing to hide” is actually a relevant argument. You are (supposed to be) in the service of the public and it could involve taking someone’s life. If you have nothing to hide regarding your use of force policies, then make them public. Period.

    If you, as a cop, are afraid this will make your job more difficult to carry out, then it’s time to reflect on what exactly it is that you are doing in that position that you are afraid will be found out.

    I know, I know, pissing into the wind here.

    1. It’s relevant to the states, perhaps. The idea that building a national database on use-of-force statistics is a desirable thing seems more like a “I want the feds to do what I like” than anything else.

      1. I don’t doubt that a national database would be a gigantic clusterfuck and probably cost in the millions to maintain, so if the states want to make it so, then they should.

        From a PR perspective, what with cops being all over the news, I would think any department trying to improve their image would be ready and willing to make that information public.

        1. They probably don’t want it public. That’s problematic because that’s not something that should be a matter for their discretion. That doesn’t mean the feds have the power to do it or that it should be treated as some kind of failure of transparency not to give the info to the feds.

  7. Please. The federal government can easily get them to do it- just make it a condition of all the federal grants they get.

    1. Just cut them out of the loot they get when they seize property.

  8. “The federal government cannot require local police agencies to do such reporting, so the program is voluntary.”

    Silly. With Scalia dead, the feds have vires beyond ultra vires

  9. The one federal database they refuse to make mandatory. How difficult is it to withhold grant money to coerce the yokels to feed the database?

  10. the taking of a life of a citizen.

    Or what we call an “adequately documented non-alien”. Wouldn’t want to offend, you know.

  11. Can’t quite tell, because he’s wearing badass gloves that probably make it nearly impossible to operate the handgun, but is the SWATTIE in the pic breaking gun safety rule number one?

    1. Are you sure he doesn’t want to shoot the photographer?

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