The FBI Is Hiding an Unpublished Police Use-of-Force Database From FOIA Requesters

Three years since it launched, an FBI data collection program on police use-of-force incidents has yet to gain enough participation to release any statistics.


For the past several years, the FBI has been trying to collect information from police departments around the country on their use of force, but it has yet to publish any reports or statistics based on that data because of lackluster participation from law enforcement. Now, a civil rights group says the FBI and Justice Department are stonewalling its attempts to get the underlying reports submitted to the program.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has been trying to obtain raw reports from law enforcement agencies submitted to the FBI's National Use-of-Force Data Collection program. However, the FBI has rejected its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and the Justice Department has denied the Leadership Conference's appeal.

The FBI launched the program in 2019 to fill one of the biggest gaps in our understanding of criminal justice in America: how often and where police use force. In the wake of the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014, The Washington Post and several other news outlets and advocacy groups started building their own databases, because the federal government simply didn't track fatal police shootings in any rigorous way, much less routine uses of force like tasings and physical strikes.

"Right now, police departments are not required to—and most do not—publicly report data, and what data does exist is often inconsistent and difficult to access," Sakira Cook, senior director of the Justice Reform Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, says. "That means we don't know enough about when, where, and how often police use force. This lack of transparency is unacceptable and hurts communities trying to advocate for change and hold law enforcement accountable."

Embarrassed by reporters' efforts showing it had vastly undercounted fatal police encounters, the Justice Department vowed to overhaul its data collection efforts in 2015.

The FBI can't force police departments to participate, though. In the three years since the new National Use-of-Force Data Collection program's launch, police participation has steadily risen, but it has never met a threshold set by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to obtain data representing 60 percent of law enforcement officers in the country before the FBI can publish any statistics.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report warned in December that, "due to insufficient participation from law enforcement agencies, the FBI faces risks that it may not meet the participation thresholds" established by the OMB, "and therefore may never publish use of force incident data."

"Further, the collection itself may be discontinued as soon as the end of 2022," the GAO report said.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which maintains its own use-of-force database, first filed a FOIA request for the raw reports submitted to the FBI's National Use-of-Force Data Collection program in November 2020. The Leadership Conference database includes records from 150 jurisdictions, but Cook says the FBI data would give it access to detailed reports from thousands of other police departments. However, the FBI rejected the request for not adequately describing the records. In March of last year, the Justice Department denied the Leadership Conference's appeal of that rejection, finding that its FOIA request was overly broad and would be unreasonably burdensome to fulfill.

Cook says the response "flies in the face of the entire FOIA system."

"The FBI's use-of-force data collection has been shrouded in secrecy from the outset, which is why we were requesting greater access to the information," Cook says. "Regardless of the FBI's excuses for keeping these records private, let's be clear: This data should be publicly available."

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  1. Police reports are mostly a combination of boilerplate and bullshit.

    So aggregating that information will just mean a huge, steaming pile of bullshit.

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  2. "The former prime minister Gordon Brown, one of the advocates of the plan, said the possibility of bringing Vladimir Putin to trial was realistic. He said the tribunal, modelled on the Nuremberg trials after the second world war, would investigate all those who planned the invasion and were complicit, including by providing finance.

    Brown said: “Buildings are being razed to the ground but not the spirit of the Ukrainian people, and by acting in solidarity with them we will signal that lawless aggression will not be tolerated anywhere on European soil.”

    The call on nations to agree to set up the tribunal has support from international lawyers, barristers and former judges, including Richard Goldstone, the former chief prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

    1. I'm not sure these people want trials for crimes against humanity, because I have a list of people who need to involved.

      1. Yeppers! I don't know how far back their remit goes, when the international war crimes court was established, but if you start from the Nuremburg trials, it's going to catch every American president at the least, and who knows how many Secretaries of State/Defense, CIA/NSA directors, and countless other functionaries.

        I suppose it might skip Ford and Carter. Maybe even Truman, since the UN "authorized" the Korean War.

        1. Nah, it can't charge US citizens, the US isn't a party to the ICC.

      2. Fauci is on my list.

  3. "Seize the frozen assets and use them to support humanitarian aid in Ukraine":

    In response to the aggression against Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and democratic states across the globe (even banker-friendly Switzerland) have frozen the assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his oligarchic cronies. This has clearly failed to halt the onslaught. The question is what to do now.

    The answer is, it is time to seize the frozen assets and use them to support humanitarian aid in Ukraine and the more than 1 million Ukrainians forced to flee as refugees. If and when Ukraine is freed from Russian occupation, any remaining funds can be used to help rebuild the country. In the meantime, the seizure would relieve the European taxpayers who will pay to support the refugees and punish the responsible aggressors.

  4. Cook says the response "flies in the face of the entire FOIA system."

    Now do the CDC.

  5. Overly burdensome to fulfill.
    Yeah, right.
    A high school kid could key in that query in about 15 seconds.

  6. But people might misinterpret the data. Just ask the CDC.

  7. If the claim is correct, the following question looms large. Why the questionable antics of the FBI.

  8. They are also hiding OBL's porn collection from FOIA requesters.

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